DETROIT -- The Penguins expect a lot from Jordan Staal, and they should, when a guy is that big and that strong and has that kind of pedigree.
But they couldn't reasonably expect anything like what Staal gave them during the final 15 or so minutes of their 7-6 overtime victory against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena last night.
Not from Staal. Not from Sidney Crosby. Not from Mario Lemieux or Bobby Orr or anyone else, for that matter.
Staal scored their final three goals in regulation, then singlehandledly set up Ruslan Fedotenko's winner at 3:49 of overtime by stealing the puck from Pavel Datsyuk, one of the Red Wings' all-world forwards.
"You can't step up much more than that," Crosby said.
No, probably not. Not unless your only weakness is rooted in a Kryptonite allergy.
LEADS TO STAAL
"It seemed like everything I touched went in the back of the net," Staal said. "I'll take it."
A lot of the pucks he has touched lately have turned up there. Staal has five goals in the past four games, the kind of rampage he hasn't produced since scoring 29 times as a rookie.
The key now is to show up on the scoresheet regularly to make this a trend.
"It's only one step," he said. "As long as I keep working the way I have been, I'm sure the puck will keep going in."
Staal's hat trick was his second in the NHL and allowed the Penguins (9-4-2) to claim a tiny measure of revenge for their six-game loss to Detroit in the Stanley Cup final in the spring.
"The last time we played them, it wasn't the best," Crosby said.
The Penguins seemed to be in particular trouble at 10:14 of the third.
After Evgeni Malkin and Staal had scored in a span of 72 seconds to pull them within one, Jiri Hudler beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the top of the right circle to restore Detroit's two-goal advantage.
"It's something I'd like to see again," Fleury said. "I don't like to give those up ... I was mad at myself for giving up that goal to cut the momentum and give them a two-goal lead again."
Turned out to be a minor setback, though, thanks to Staal's outburst.
"He's on top of his game now," coach Michel Therrien said. "That's a good sign for us."
The Penguins won despite a lopsided defeat in special-teams play.
Detroit scored on three of five power plays, while the Penguins were one for five with the extra man.
"Our special teams were not too good," Therrien said. "We took some penalties, and they made us pay."
Still, the only real loss for the Penguins likely was defenseman Rob Scuderi, who was struck on the outside of his left foot by a Nicklas Lidstrom shot midway through the first period. Scuderi left the game and, after returning early in the second, went back to the locker room and was not seen again.
Therrien said he did not have a report on Scuderi, but it seems likely that his foot is badly bruised, if not fractured.
Crosby gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 4:34 of the opening period, but Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom countered for Detroit before the intermission. Johan Franzen put Detroit up, 3-1, before Max Talbot got a goal for the Penguins, but Datsyuk struck at 18:02 of the second to make it 4-2.
Henrik Zetterberg seemed to put the game out of reach at 5:03 of the third -- "It looked pretty tough for us at 5-2, especially against Detroit," Therrien said -- but Malkin triggered the Penguins' comeback with a 5-on-3 goal at 6:57, setting the stage for Staal's heroics.
The Penguins, of course, got just two points for this victory, the same as they had in each of the three games that preceded it.
Nonetheless, pulling off that kind of comeback against an opponent of such high caliber, has the potential to make a lasting impression on their season, much as a come-from-behind victory in Ottawa last Thanksgiving did.
They didn't play a perfect game -- not even close -- but still found a way to manufacture a victory, on the road, against one of the league's elite clubs.
"We just battled back," Therrien said. "We showed a lot of character winning that game."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published November 12, 2008 5:00 AM