Everything you need to know from the Penguins' 4-2 victory over Minnesota: A RESILIENT BUNCH
The Penguins were a battered bunch heading into Tuesday’s game (their eighth in 13 days).
Not only did they play the night before in Winnipeg, but the Penguins also learned mere hours before the game that they would be without workhorse Kris Letang
– as the NHL suspended the Pittsburgh blueliner for two games after boarding the Jets’ Alexander Burmistrov Monday night. Brian Strait
, called up in the morning from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, took his place.
The Penguins have already been missing another one of their top defenseman in Brooks Orpik
– who has yet to play a game this season – and the situation on Pittsburgh’s back end went from bad to worse on Tuesday as Strait went down early in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return.
That meant the Penguins had to rotate five rearguards for the remainder of the contest, and it was the shutdown pairing of Paul Martin
and Zbynek Michalek
that shouldered most of the load. Both players skated just under 30 minutes apiece (Michalek: 29:20 minutes; Martin: 29:04 minutes).
“That was a lot of tough minutes for a lot of guys out there,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “7 and 4 in particular played a ton of hockey in tough situations.”
But the Penguins dug deep and battled through the fatigue and weariness, not to mention a slew of injuries to their forward lineup.
In addition to Tyler Kennedy
, Evgeni Malkin
, Sidney Crosby
and Dustin Jeffrey
being out on Tuesday, the Penguins had to play without center Joe Vitale
for almost a whole period when he took a hi-stick to the face in the second.
So needless to say, Tuesday’s 4-2 road victory was a monumental one for this Penguins squad.
“We had to do it due to some injuries," Michalek said of him and Martin's extra ice time. "But we are glad that we won the game. It was a huge game for us to bounce back in. I think tonight was a complete team effort. Everybody played well starting with (goalie Brent Johnson
). We were real happy with the game.”
With the amount of injuries to the Penguins, it was going to take a total team effort to defeat the Wild – and that’s exactly what the players delivered.
And on the scoresheet, four different Penguins chipped in with a goal in their 4-2 victory – Chris Kunitz
, Jordan Staal
, Pascal Dupuis
and James Neal
. They were all hardworking tallies – three were the result of strong defensive plays, while the fourth occurred because of having a net-front presence around the blue paint.
“It seems some bad luck keeps happening to this team. We keep battling through it and I think we are doing a really good job,” Michalek said. “We are not a fancy team right now by any means. We just try to do the dirty work, play good defensively and rely on our goaltending.”
Bylsma was particularly impressed with the leadership his group has shown as of late.
“It’s about the guys in that room and how we can play. It’s about certainly playing the right way,” he said. “Tough spots, tough games in many nights, back-to-back games and a lot of great leadership from our guys tonight.”
The Penguins’ penalty killing unit continues to thrive, killing off all five Wild power play opportunities to improve to a perfect 20-for-20 on the road.
Bylsma credited Martin and Michalek (who combined for 14:11 shorthanded minutes) and Staal, Matt Cooke
, Dupuis and Craig Adams
for their work.
“Killing those off at different points in the game was a really big part of the game,” Bylsma said.
To top it off, Dupuis scored a beautiful shorthanded goal with just 7:36 left in the third that proved to be the game-winner. It’s his second shorthanded tally in just seven games (he scored four through 81 contests in 2010-11).
On the play, Cooke picked the pocket of forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was playing the point on the Wild PP. He banked a pass to a speeding Dupuis, who was off to the races – getting Backstrom to commit and flipping a backhander over the prone Minnesota goalie.
“He made a really good play,” Dupuis said of Cooke. “He won the puck battle there at the blue line and I was skating towards the blue line. The puck ended up on my blade. I had a breakaway from the red line in. Luckily I put it in.”
Dupuis now has six points (2G-4A) through eight games, as does Cooke (3G-3A).
Neal continued his blistering pace Tuesday by scoring his NHL-leading (tied) sixth goal of the season. October has been kind to Neal the past three seasons, as he now has 19 goals and 33 points in 32 games during the month since the start of the 2009-10 campaign.
“Right now we are getting some huge goals from Nealer,” Michalek said.
The power forward also threw four pucks to the net, increasing his shot total to 32 – also tops in the league.
However, Neal hasn’t just been scoring clutch goals for the Penguins. He’s also been a factor with his relentless backchecking and physical play – throwing 15 hits through the first eight games.
Author: Sam Kasan