Penguins sneak out back door with 2-1 victory

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Whitney admits the play lost its novelty a while ago.

There's no point in trying to deny it.

Not when every opponent with cable TV has seen it dozens, if not hundreds, of times the past couple of seasons.

But while the play itself might have gotten rather old, celebrating the goals it produces -- like Whitney's winner in the Penguins' 2-1 victory against Washington at the Verizon Center last night -- never does.

Especially when they enable the Penguins (4-3) to do things like win back-to-back games and cross onto the sunny side of .500 for the first time this season.

Whitney got the deciding goal on a power play at 17:59 of the second period, as he moved in from the left point, took a cross-ice feed from Sidney Crosby and threw the puck past Capitals goalie Brent Johnson to break a 1-1 tie.

That back-door play has been a staple of the Penguins' man-advantage repertoire, and the rest of the league knows it. Which does not necessarily mean every set of penalty-killers is prepared to defend against it.

"If it's there, we'll take it," Crosby said. "Obviously, teams have video and are going to watch plays, but sometimes you can catch them off-guard."

Truth be told, Whitney didn't venture in as deep as he generally does, and the pass he got from Crosby before beating Johnson from above the left dot was essentially parallel, not angled sharply toward the goal line.

"He did a great job of just finding the seam," Crosby said. "That's what guys who know how to score do."

And the guy at the other end of the ice showed that he hasn't forgotten how to stop opponents from scoring; Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury recorded 30 saves in his finest performance of the season.

"That's what I'm supposed to do," Fleury said. "What I like to do."

And what he did particularly well when the Capitals were pressing to put the game into overtime.

"We made a couple of mistakes, and he bailed us out," Crosby said. "If he doesn't make those saves, maybe we're talking about how we broke down defensively in the third period."

Crosby, meanwhile, won his latest statistical showdown against Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, as he set up Whitney's winner while Ovechkin failed to get a point for the first time in seven games this season.

Ovechkin, though, was a major presence throughout the game, piling up a game-high eight shots and being credited with five hits, more than anyone except teammate Shaone Morrisonn.

Washington outshot the Penguins, 12-6, in the first period and got the only goal then when defenseman Brian Pothier put a shot from the right point through heavy traffic and past Fleury at 13:45.

Fleury acknowledged that he never saw Pothier's shot, which was understandable because the Penguins had failed to clear the front of their net -- a recurring problem this season.

Although the Penguins failed to capitalize on a 51-second, five-on-three power play early in the second, they tied the score eight seconds after Washington returned to full-strength. Jordan Staal got the goal at 3:58, knocking a Mark Recchi rebound past Johnson from the inner edge of the right circle.

It was his first of the season, and Staal clearly was aware that he'd failed to score in the previous six games.

"It was definitely a relief to get one," he said.

The Capitals just might have rallied if Fleury had not elevated his game to the level he reached so often while accumulating 40 victories in 2006-07.

"That's the [Fleury] we've known since last year," Staal said. "He deserved a game like that."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published October 21, 2007 4:00 AM


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