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Defensive Excellence is Total Team Effort

by Joe Prince-Wright / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins recorded their third shootout win in a row to overcome a stubborn New Jersey Devils 1-0 at CONSOL energy center to remain hot in the heels of the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for 1st place in the eastern Conference.

“It was a great 65 minutes,” said winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “Everybody played hard, played patient and played well defensively and didn’t give them that much.”

That is an understatement.

The Penguins allowed the Devils just one shot in the first period and 21 in total. In fact the four shots combined between the Penguins (3) and New Jersey (1) in the first period established a franchise record for the fewest combined shots in a single period.

Two Penguins defensemen who have stepped up to the plate with Brooks Orpik out injured are Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy, who posted 14:53 and 17:19 minutes on the ice respectively in the hard-fought win.

The whole defensive unit seems to be on the same page as both Niskanen and Lovejoy proved with their similar responses.

“The last two games in a row we have had a real sharp effort from the entire team,” Niskanen said. “Everyone is buying into the way we want to play. We’re being aggressive but we are being smart at the same time. It’s a total team effort and we are playing the right way.”

Fellow defensemen Ben Lovejoy echoed this sentiment.

“It’s a team effort,” Lovejoy said. “We obviously want to play more in the offensive zone. When we’re in the offensive zone, they’re not going to score. But when we do, we’ve been playing good team defense and not giving up a ton of scoring chances. And when we have, we’ve got a Vezina-caliber goalie back to there to bail us out.”

The Penguins’ Penalty killing unit once again proved its worth as the Devils were 0-4 on the powerplay. The Penguins PK unit is still ranked no.1 in the NHL at 86.0 percent. The Penguins have been consistently one of the best PK units all season long and they reduced the Devils to 0 shots during their third powerplay at a pivotal moment towards the end of the third period.

Fleury kept up his sensational form in net. Over his past 48 starts, Fleury has allowed two or fewer goals on 31 occasions. His form has help elevated the Penguins from 10th place in the Eastern conference on Nov.12th to 4th place today.

James Neal scored the game-deciding shootout goal for the Penguins for the second time in three games.

Neal somehow found the space to squeeze the puck past Martin Brodeur and off the underside of the crossbar to send the crowd wild at CONSOL Energy Center.

“It feels like every game since I have got here has gone into overtime,” Neal said. “I am lucky to shoot and I like shooting third. It’s a great opportunity to win the game.”

The Penguins have been battling hard in recent weeks, seeing several games go into overtime. The Pens own an overtime record of 13-8 with their 13 wins ranking fifth overall in the NHL.

The Penguins have required 60-plus minutes of play in 10 of their last 17 games; they have gone 6-4 in those games. Overall the Penguins are 8-3 on the shootout this year and 5-5 in overtime.

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