Pens score much-needed victory over Ottawa
OTTAWA — It would be overstatement to suggest the Penguins flat-out needed this 2-1 shootout victory over Ottawa on Sunday at Scotiabank Place.
But probably not by much, to hear them tell it.
Not after losing their previous two to Toronto and Winnipeg, teams that missed the most recent Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not after openly acknowledging that effort and discipline, two eminently controllable variables, were largely to blame.
Not after experiencing first-hand how fragile their fate might be within a 48-game schedule.
“We didn't want to let any of this keep sliding,” Sidney Crosby said afterward. “It wasn't a pretty one, but it's good that we won one of those. Sometimes you have to find a way.”
The way, most assuredly, wasn't easy.
After Matt Niskanen exited with an apparent knee injury in the first period, coach Dan Bylsma and assistant Todd Reirden had to manage a five-man defense. And all of them fared well, notably the top pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik, which Bylsma called “outstanding.”
Orpik recorded nine blocks, more than an entire team usually registers.
“All those guys got the job done,” Bylsma added.
Ben Lovejoy, one of those defensemen, returned the compliment.
“Dan had seven clips waiting for us at the hotel when we got here,” Lovejoy said, referring to the team's arrival Saturday from Winnipeg. “We were struggling coming out of the defensive zone. Whether we were cheating or not, I think we did a good job of correcting that in this game. I think that's a big reason we kept chances down.”
Niskanen's absence wasn't the only difficulty facing the Penguins. The offense continued to look out of sorts, and turnovers continued to cause trouble.
But James Neal struck for his team-high fourth goal in the first period, and Marc-Andre Fleury matched Craig Anderson save for save through overtime — Fleury made 32, Anderson 33 — to set the stage for a 3-for-3 shootout show by Neal, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who had the slick backhand tuck for the winner.
Fleury had allowed two Ottawa goals in the shootout, a rarity for him, but Malkin made that moot.
And just like that, a record that could have fallen below .500 instead went a game above at 3-2.
Might sound like no big deal to some, but if the Penguins learned anything from this up-then-down start, it's that, as defenseman Kris Letang put it, “You have to play like every play matters.”
“It's early, but games can slip away from you in a hurry with a schedule like this,” Neal said. “So yeah, this was a big game. We kind of let ourselves down with the home opener against Toronto, and that kind of carried over into Winnipeg.”
He paused and raised his eyebrows.
“It was definitely a big game. I'm not downplaying that.”
Neither was Fleury, who looked as delighted as anyone.
“It's really big for us to get this, to get back to playing the way we know how to play,” he said. “For us to give up only one goal, we had a lot of guys making the right decision. It was a good team effort, a good team win.”