Short-handed Penguins get win over Rangers
By Rob Rossi
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
NEW YORK — Dan Bylsma is not into giving away secrets.
That would include those concerning his input on how the Penguins keeping winning without so many regulars.
That did not include the identity of his sixth shootout selection Wednesday night — though center Brandon Sutter made that reveal unnecessary for Bylsma.
Sutter's clean beat of goalie Henrik Lundqvist won a five-round shootout for the Penguins, who came back from their own giveaway for a 4-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
All Bylsma said was that a defenseman was up next for the Penguins had Sutter not scored.
“I was just looking for any opening,” Sutter said. “You always have a backup plan, and it probably was a deke either way. I did see an opening, tried to fire it and it worked out.”
Sutter's more eye-opening goal staked the Penguins to a 3-1 lead in the third period. He burst with speed into the offensive zone, cut with power from right-to-left, backing off a couple of Rangers in the process, and then pushed a backhand shot behind Lundqvist.
Goal No. 7 on the season probably was his prettiest in his two Penguins seasons, Sutter said.
“Anytime you get a one-on-one, especially 4-on-4, you want to try and make a play on it,” Sutter said. “I just tried to drive wide, get the (defensemen) thinking I was going to drive wide or shoot and try to pull it in. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.”
It's working for the Penguins (25-10-1, 51 points), even though only captain Sidney Crosby's top line and the makeshift No. 1 defense pairing of Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta are devoid of AHL call-ups as contributors. Niskanen played 29 minutes and 44 seconds. Maatta was a close second at 28:06.
When the top four defensemen are healthy — and that has been for fewer than four periods — Niskanen and Maatta might play between 15-17 minutes.
On Thursday night, they will be tasked again with anchoring the Penguins, who will face Minnesota at Consol Energy Center.
“It's probably more minutes than either player is accustomed to,” Bylsma said. “We're going to have to have those other guys step up some more (Thursday).”
Under normal circumstances, asking more from the other AHL guys — be they Brian Dumoulin on defense and working with the top power-play unit or Brian Gibbons filling in for the Jayson Megna, who was the replacement at second-line right wing for James Neal — would seem unfair.
However, Crosby is loving what he is seeing from a group of fill-in players that have sparked the Penguins on a 13-3-1 run since injuries started piling up.
“To go through what we're going through and still find ways to win says a lot,” Crosby said. “It says a lot about the character, a lot about the guys who've come up and the job that they've done.”
Crosby, the NHL leader with 49 points, did his job against the Rangers, assisting on goals by Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
The Penguins' league-best power play/penalty kill combination acquitted itself well, too.
Kunitz's goal was on the advantage, and the Penguins killed three of four Rangers' power plays — holding New York without a shot on two, and denying it a winning goal in overtime while going against a 4-on-3 disadvantage.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury denied the Rangers' first four shooters in the shootout while winger Benoit Pouliot, missed.
Sutter followed that miss with his hit against Lundqvist.
That extended the Penguins' winning streak to five games and kept Bylsma from having to tell who was next in line.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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