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Notebook: Additions Add Punch

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
TORONTO, Ontario – The Penguins are a long way away from being healthy with 10 players still on the injured list. But the team is slowly getting healthier, and a few new additions to the lineup made a big difference in Pittsburgh’s 6-5 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

The Penguins got three goals (and the shootout-deciding score) from three players that were not in the lineup two days ago: Alex Kovalev, Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey.

Kovalev scored a goal in regulation and added the shootout-deciding tally. He even addressed the team following the game in the locker room.

“He gave a little speech after we won,” forward Maxime Talbot said. “For us he was the player of the game. He’s happy to be here and we’re happy to have him. He made an impact (Saturday), and I’m sure he’ll make an impact in the next couple of games.”

Kovalev joined the team on Friday after being acquired by the Penguins in a trade on Thursday. He scored his first goal as a Penguin since (re-)joining the organization with 46 seconds remaining in the first period when his shot from the far circle slipped through Toronto netminder James Reimer.

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It is Kovalev’s 150th goal as a Penguin and brought back images from his vintage Pittsburgh days.

“It brings old memories back,” Kovalev said. “I know I can be the same player. I have it in me to be that kind of player.”

Kovalev then sealed the extra point in the standings for the Penguins when he roofed a pinpoint-perfect shot into the corner of the net in the shootout.

“(Kris) Letang went first and I was surprised he stayed along the goal line,” Kovalev said of Reimer. “He did the same thing against me. I didn’t have any other choice of where to shoot.”

Letestu returned to the lineup after missing 13 games following knee surgery. Letestu made an immediate impact with his puck skills, and evened the game at 2-2 with 4:00 left in the middle frame with a sniper shot into the top corner on a Pittsburgh power play. Credit Jordan Staal with a huge screen on the play.

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Letestu added an assist for a two-point night on Mike Rupp’s third-period goal that evened the game at 5-5.

“To be back in my first (game) and get a goal and help the team right away feels good,” Letestu said. “I came up the wall and knew Letang was going to come to me. I just picked a side of the net. ‘Staalsy’ did a great job of screening the goalie and I still don’t think he knows if it’s in.”

Jeffrey was playing in just his second game since missing six contests with a lower-body injury. Jeffrey was positioned atop the crease when he buried a loose puck into the goal to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead with just 16 seconds left in the second period.

“We got it from different people, a couple guys have been inserted in the lineup, guys coming back from injuries,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Jeffrey got a goal. Mark Letestu was good offensively tonight. … We got a goal from Alex to get us started in the game.

“We’ll definitely take the two points.”

Maxime Talbot finally scored a goal against a goalie with a beautiful shorthanded tally in the third period. Talbot poked the puck out of the zone after blocking a Dion Phaneuf shot and used his speed to head in on goal with a breakaway.

Talbot juked the puck to his backhand before sliding it over the goal line.

“It was a blocked shot and I went on the breakaway,” Talbot said. “I tried to beat him with speed. It worked out so it definitely feels good.”

The last time Talbot scored against a netminder was Nov. 29 at New York Rangers on Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot did score on Feb. 2 versus the NY Islanders, but it was an empty-net tally.

The Penguins welcomed back Mark Letestu to the lineup, but their net-injury gain was zero, as the club added Tyler Kennedy to the absent list with a lower-body injury.
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