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Pens Triumph in Shootout over LA in KC Showdown

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

With a beautiful new facility like the Sprint Center, Kansas City has been lobbying to bring NHL hockey to the area for some time now.

And on Tuesday, the Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings did just that, giving the crowd a show in their neutral-site exhibition game.

Pittsburgh topped their Western Conference opponent in a shootout, 3-2, to improve to 4-0 in preseason play – with defenseman Matt Niskanen getting the winning shootout tally for the Penguins.

“I didn’t anticipate that at all,” Niskanen said with a smile. “I knew I was probably pretty far down the list. ‘Flower’ (Marc-Andre Fleury) made a lot of saves, so it came to that. It was kind of fun.”

Evgeni Malkin netted a pretty goal in the first round of the shootout and the Kings’ Jarret Stoll scored in the third round before Niskanen converted in the eighth round to end the game.

“He’s 1-for-3 in his career. He’s scored before,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of Niskanen. “So we gave him a chance.”

“I’m not a very good stickhandler, so I thought I’d just shoot it,” Niskanen grinned. “And what do you know, it must have fooled him somehow.”

After Stoll scored at the 4:31 mark of the first period to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead (that they took into the final frame) it was another Penguins defenseman – Deryk Engelland – who started the comeback with 16:15 left in the third.

Engelland found some space on the side of the ice and received a pass from defensive partner Joseph Morrow, whipping a shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier to make it 1-1.

“It feels great. They really expect the D, it doesn’t matter who you are, to jump into the play whenever you can,” Engelland said. “I’ve been trying to get into the play a little bit more this year than last year. I just found a hole and Joey Morrow just gave me a good pass. I just buried my head and shot it.”

One of the storylines at Penguins training camp this year has been the incredible depth on defense.

The competition is fierce among Pittsburgh’s blueliners for coveted spots on the roster, with all of the defensemen at camp making strong cases for themselves with their play. And performances like Tuesday night's certainly boost the confidence for players like Engelland and Niskanen.

“It’s huge,” Engelland said. “Every game you play you get a little more confident and get back into things. Competition is huge. It’s a big part. It’s depth and also pushes everyone to the next level.”

Chris Kunitz rounded out the scoring for the Penguins in regulation when he crashed the net and punched home a Tyler Kennedy feed at the 9:07 mark of the third.

Prior to Tuesday’s tilt, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had played just a combined two periods in Pittsburgh’ previous three pre-season games so the coaches could get looks at the other netminders at camp.

Fleury said before the game that he was excited to get a full 60 minutes of action in, but overtime and a shootout was maybe a little more than he bargained for.

“You never know what to expect going into it,” he said with a grin. “But it was nice that the first one of the season was a win. It was definitely fun for that reason."

Fleury looked strong in the contest, stopping 20 of 21 shots in the first 65 minutes. He looked especially excellent in the shootout, stopping seven of eight Kings.

"That was nice, I think, to play the extra period, to get in there and just trying to stay focused for 65 minutes and getting the shootout," he said. "We’re going to have some of those in the regular season, so it’s nice to have a little practice before it really counts."
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