RALEIGH, N.C. -- Brent Johnson is playing like a guy who never sees a puck coming at him.
Rather, he's reacting to -- and stopping -- shots as if every one of them arrives on something bearing the signature of NBA commissioner David Stern.
Forget six-ounce disks of vulcanized rubber; those 33 shots Carolina threw at him in the Penguins' 3-0 victory Saturday night at the RBC Center seemed to look as big as basketballs to Johnson.
He rejected them all to earn his first shutout in 103 starts -- a streak dated to April 1, 2006 -- and help the Penguins out of an 0-2-1 skid while raising his own record to 5-0-1.
"He's really in a groove," center Sidney Crosby said. "When your goalie's playing like that, you have a chance."
Getting quality goaltending was particularly important because the Penguins were missing center Evgeni Malkin, who got a bruised knee in their 3-2 loss to Philadelphia Friday, and were without defenseman Kris Letang for much of the evening.
Malkin's injury is not believed to be serious, and coach Dan Bylsma, while offering no details on Letang's injury, said he could reasonably be listed as "day to day."
That mildly encouraging prognosis for Letang wasn't of much help against Carolina because the Penguins already were without center Jordan Staal and defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
"When you don't have Evgeni Malkin in your lineup and one of your top defensemen falls ... you just have to execute better," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
Getting three goals from guys who aren't regarded as big-time scorers helps, too.
Dupuis gave the Penguins the only goal they needed at 4:18 of the opening period, when he slid a backhander between the legs of Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, and closed out the scoring by beating Ward from near the right dot during a two-on-two break at 8:10 of the third.
Those goals matched Dupuis' output from the previous 11 games.
"It's hockey," he said. "You just find the net in some games, and tonight, I did."
Max Talbot, another blue-collar type, recorded the Penguins' second goal when he took a cross-ice feed from Arron Asham and slid a shot under Ward's pads at 2:15 of the second.
But it was not just the laborers scoring goals that made these two points possible; it was the skilled players who were willing to commit themselves to grinding out a victory.
Crosby, for example, made Dupuis' second goal possible by blocking a shot in the defensive zone, then artfully banking a pass off the boards to set up the rush that culminated in the goal.
That was one of 18 shots the Penguins blocked.
"It was every guy contributing, and more the type of game -- minus having to go on the penalty-kill so much -- that we'd like to see from our team on a regular basis," Bylsma said.
The Penguins were short-handed seven times, including a two-man disadvantage that lasted for 46 seconds early in the third.
"Our [penalty-kill] was terrific," Johnson said.
"We had a lot of first-touch clears, which, in my mind, is fantastic for a goalie to see. As soon as it was on our sticks, it was out of the zone."
Not long after the Penguins got back to full-strength after surviving that five-on-three, Dupuis scored the goal that put the game out of reach.
The closest Carolina came to scoring was about 35 seconds into the final period, when Jiri Tlusty had a mostly open net, but put the puck off the left goalpost.
Johnson appeared to get the shaft of his stick on that shot, but said after the game that he did not believe he had touched it. It might have been the only thing that came anywhere near him that he didn't get a piece of.
Bylsma said Johnson's stellar play through the first month resulted in an greater workload than he had been scheduled to handle, and that he and Marc-Andre Fleury both will see extensive action over the next two weeks, when the Penguins twice will play three games in four nights.
"That's a lot of games in a short amount of time," Bylsma said.
Which means Johnson should have several more opportunities to exasperate opponents with the pretty basic formula he has been following.
"I'm simplifying my game," he said. "Just trying to be big in front of the net and stop the puck with my body."
That's almost every puck these days. Almost every time.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published October 31, 2010 4:00 AM