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Choice Of Letestu Pays Off With Shootout Victory

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
PHOENIX – Last season the Penguins were one of the top teams in the National Hockey League when the game advanced to a shootout, posting an 8-2 record, which included wins in their first seven shootouts.

Pittsburgh picked up right where it left off last season on Saturday night, earning its first shootout victory of the 2010-11 campaign when Mark Letestu capped a comeback victory by using a quick move to expose an opening on Phoenix netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, and then taking advantage by ripping a wrist shot into the back of the twine to complete the 4-3 victory.

“I kind of had my mind made up once (head coach) Dan (Bylsma) told me I was shooting third,” Letestu said. “It’s a move I have used in the minors and have had a lot of success with. It worked tonight.”

It was the first game-deciding shootout goal of Letestu’s career, and the third time in seven Pittsburgh victories the rookie center has notched the game-winning tally.

That Letestu had the chance to be the hero once again is a credit to Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, who lobbied in Bylsma’s ear to have Letestu follow Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang.

“Tony was the guy who probably pushed me over the edge on picking Mark,” Bylsma said. “I’ve seen Mark take a lot of shootouts and be a go-to-guy in that situation in the American Hockey League. He got a chance to go with a couple of the moves that he has. That was nice to see that go in.”

Letestu’s winner followed another sensational effort between the pipes by Brent Johnson, who stopped every shot he faced but one after replacing Marc-Andre Fleury 6:56 into the first period when the Coyotes went ahead 2-0.

Not included – at least officially – in Johnson’s 22-save relief appearance were the three saves he made in the shootout as he improved to 3-0 all-time with the Penguins in the highly-popular tiebreaking breakaway competition. In two seasons with the Penguins, Johnson is a perfect 9-for-9 in shootouts.

He credited his success against the Coyotes, when he made a diving pokecheck on Radim Vrbata, a snow-angel pad stop on Wojtek Wolski and stood tall as Lauri Korpikoski missed the net, to a brief discussion he had prior to the start of the shootout with defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who spent the previous five seasons with the Coyotes.

“‘Z’ told me about the first two shooters,” Johnson said. “He said Vrbata likes to go to the backhand. I just nicked it with my stick. The second one I just tried to stay with him the best I could. On the third one he missed the net by a little bit.”

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