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Notebook: Depleted Defense Defiant

by Tony Jovenitti / Pittsburgh Penguins
On Sunday morning, the Penguins learned that they would be without the services of defenseman Matt Niskanen thanks to the flu.

With the team’s top minor-league affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a western road trip, an emergency call-up was out of the question. So the Penguins rolled with just five blueliners against the Edmonton Oilers.

Despite being shorthanded, Pittsburgh only allowed one Edmonton shot through the entire first period, and kept the Oilers to just one goal during a 5-1 win at CONSOL Energy Center.

“We just had to keep short shifts and play in the offensive zone so we don’t get tired on the blue line,” Zbynek Michalek said. “I think we did a very good job at it.”

“We did want to be conscious of the fact that we had five defenseman, but you want to play well defensively every night,” Craig Adams said.

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy used the additional minutes as an opportunity to contribute offensively. 

In the second period, Lovejoy thought he cashed in on a shot from the point, but Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk kicked the net off its moorings. However, Lovejoy was determined.

At his own blue line, he dove for a loose puck and pitched it up to Pascal Dupuis, who found Maxime Talbot breaking up ice. On the breakaway, Talbot showed off some fancy stick-work, skated toward the right side of the net and slid the puck past Dubnyk’s left pad.

Michalek also joined in on the fun with his increased minutes. Midway through the third period, Talbot found Michalek breaking down the right side.

Michalek scorched a slap shot into the net for his second goal as a Penguin. He scored his first goal of the season Tuesday against Buffalo with a similar slapper from the right side.

“I’m glad I could help the team win again,” he said. “Hopefully, I can keep shooting.”


The Penguins have the best penalty kill in the NHL, while the Oilers feature the league’s worst power-play unit. So it’s really not a surprise that the Penguins kept the Oilers’ power play off the board.

In the first period, Alex Kovalev and Paul Martin found themselves in the penalty box, and the Oilers had a two-man advantage for 1:46. It doesn’t really matter what the special teams statistics are when it comes to five-on-three power plays.

“That’s a long time to have to kill off,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The three guys did an outstanding job of blocking shots and creating those loose puck situations.”

Adams, Matt Cooke and Michalek took to the ice and cleared the puck several times to kill off both penalties – the Oilers didn’t even register a shot. A minute later, Chris Kunitz chipped a backhander into the net to give the Penguins the lead.

“We’ve been pretty good at it all year, and we got a couple blocks early,” Adams said. “I thought ‘Cookie’ did a good job, and ‘Z’ was really good at creating turnovers. It was definitely a big point in the game for us.”

“It was huge,” Michalek said. “We gained a lot of energy and we scored right after. I think it was the turning point in the game.”

Overall, the Penguins’ PK held the Oilers’ power play to just three shots on four chances.


One good thing about playing two games in a 24-hour span is that players can get a chance to quickly correct any mistakes.

But Marc-Andre Fleury had to wait a little longer than expected to rebound from Saturday’s 3-0 loss, since the Oilers only managed one shot on goal in the entire first period.

But before the first media timeout of the second period, the Oilers had already thrown seven shots his way, many of which were quality scoring chances.

“It was fun just to have a chance to come back in, and the guys did a great job in front to get a win,” Fleury said.

“Marc has a pretty strong history of rebounding,” Dan Bylsma said. “(Saturday’s game) was a situation where we left him prone a couple times. It wasn’t entirely his own demise, but we got him right back in there to get a strong game. He came out in the second and made a couple strong saves.”

Fleury challenged Edmonton’s shots and his pads got some extra work, as he stretched across the crease several times to kick Oilers shots out of danger. He finished with 28 saves for a save percentage of 0.966.

“Yeah, I didn’t have too much time to think about it,” Fleury said of Saturday’s loss. “I got back into it, and it felt good to get a win.”
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