Penguins toughen up to score win over Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Another day, another full travel itinerary, another prominent player ousted from the lineup, another injury and another ... decisive victory?
Even with defenseman Kris Letang's two-game suspension heaped onto the pile, the tired, tattered Penguins turned in one of the young season's most complete efforts to beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. Brent Johnson made 24 saves, Matt Cooke had two assists and James Neal's team-high sixth goal was the backbreaker.
No excuses necessary, apparently.
"You can always find excuses," coach Dan Bylsma said. "This is about guys playing the right way."
And that right way, as right winger Pascal Dupuis described it after scoring a slick short-handed goal, is "great goaltending, guys blocking shots, paying the price and all of us doing it together."
It doesn't appear that recipe will become optional anytime soon. Between Letang and the four key injured players — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy and Brooks Orpik — that's not just a quarter of the roster out. It's a quarter that includes two of the game's elite performers, the team's top goal-scorer in the second half of last season and the top defensive pairing.
Total salary cap hit for those five: $26.65 million.
All that, and defenseman Brian Strait, recalled from the AHL earlier in the morning, was knocked out of this game by an undisclosed upper-body injury. Center Joe Vitale exited, too, because of a stick to the mouth, though he shouldn't miss any more time. And nails-tough defenseman Deryk Engelland took a shot to the left side of the jaw, the same place he was cut last week, but stayed in the game.
The Penguins' locker room was in visibly high spirits after ending a three-game losing streak and, for a night anyway, burying all the bad news.
"This was fantastic," Johnson said. "The effort never ended, really. And that's how it should be. We're very content with the guys we have in here. We feel like we can challenge every night."
"We had great work from everybody, up and down the roster," Neal said. "That felt really good."
It was almost the exact opposite of the 2-1 loss Monday in Winnipeg: The Penguins spent far more time with the puck, returned to running long-range breakouts to spread Minnesota's defense, won 50-50 battles and made the most of their chances.
The biggest goal came from Neal, a potent, low wrist through Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom off a two-on-one that pushed the Penguins ahead, 3-1, at 3:38 of the third.
"We saw an awful lot from our veteran leadership," Bylsma said, citing forwards Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Dupuis, as well as defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, who picked up most of the extra minutes. "It's not just about standing up on the bench. It's about going out on the ice and doing it."
Penguins, 1-0 (:46): LW Chris Kunitz picked off breakout by Wild D Greg Zanon. RW Pascal Dupuis collected and fed back to Kunitz, who one-timed low slap shot from the top of left circle through Wild G Niklas Backstrom.
Penguins, 2-0 (7:14): C Jordan Staal spun around and swept in a rebound of D Zbynek Michalek's slap shot from the center point on a power play.
Wild, 2-1 (8:07): RW Cal Clutterbuck finished off a two-on-one short-handed break with a snap shot over G Brent Johnson's glove. Wild C Mikko Koivu started the play by stripping the puck from Dupuis at the power-play point.
Penguins, 3-1 (3:38): LW James Neal took the puck in neutral zone, stormed down left side on two-on-one and zipped a low wrister through Backstrom.
Penguins, 4-1 (12:21): Dupuis was sprung for a short-handed breakaway by LW Matt Cooke and beat Backstrom with a sizzling backhand move.
Wild, 4-2 (13:12): LW Guillaume Latendresse beat Johnson with a short-range wrist shot after a pass from C Matt Cullen.