Penguins get rare victory in New Jersey


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NEWARK, N.J. -- The Penguins spent all of last season looking for a way to defeat New Jersey, and never found one.

This time, it took only one try to earn a victory against the Devils, 3-1, Monday at the Prudential Center.

The challenge now is to figure out exactly why it happened.

Was it because the Penguins started their No. 2 goalie, who made 30 saves and earned the game's No. 1 star?

Because the Devils' salary-cap situation is such a mess that they barely had the personnel needed to staff a basketball team?

Because the Penguins got goals from two guys who have combined to score a total of 19 in their careers but who have, individually, put up more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined during the early days of 2010-11?

Could be any of those things. Probably all of them.

Doesn't matter much to the Penguins. Not when they finally earned the two points that had eluded them in their first two games of the regular season.

"You could say it's only two games in, but we've all seen what happens to teams that get off to slow starts," forward Craig Adams said. "Certainly, I don't think that would be the case for us, but you never know."

That such fears have ceased to be an issue, at least for now, testifies to the work of backup goalie Brent Johnson, who was excellent in his first start of the season, and the goal-scoring of defenseman Alex Goligoski and forward Mark Letestu, each of whom put in his second.

It also can be attributed, at least in part, to the Devils dressing just 17 players, which meant there was nearly enough space on their bench to accommodate the sparse crowd that had wandered into the Prudential Center.

New Jersey coach John MacLean said, "We don't use excuses," but the Devils having three fewer players than the usual complement obviously worked to the Penguins' advantage, at least in some ways.

For example, they tried to keep the pace of play high, to limit the amount of time the Devils -- who were missing defenseman Anton Volchenkov (nose) and forwards Brian Rolston (back) and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (suspension) -- had to recharge between shifts.

They also made a point of consistently getting pucks behind the New Jersey defense, to force the Devils' skilled forwards to expend energy in their own zone.

"We played the right way," Goligoski said.

At the same time, as Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, a former Devil, pointed out, "their talented guys are on the ice more often" when the team is undermanned.

The Penguins dealt with that by keeping play in New Jersey's zone for much of the first two periods, and getting some timely stops by Johnson in the third, when the Devils had a 15-7 edge in shots.

"[Johnson] was big when we needed him to be," Adams said.

New Jersey got its only goal when Letestu broke his stick on a defensive-zone faceoff, allowing Jason Arnott to pull the puck directly back to Patrik Elias at the top of the left circle.

"It was just one of those things," Johnson said. "It went through a maze of guys and found the right hole."

Although the Penguins' personnel issues Monday didn't begin to rival those of New Jersey, they do suddenly have some concerns on the blue line.

Brooks Orpik, their most physical defenseman, sat out the game and Zbynek Michalek left it as the middle of the second period approached.

One of the Penguins' most consistent strengths is the ability to be vague about the nature and severity of injuries, and they were in midseason form on these two. Coach Dan Bylsma would say only that "both will be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh before we know where they're at."

The unofficial word is that Orpik is feeling the after-effects of his offseason abdominal surgery and that Michalek sustained a right-shoulder injury on a hard hit from Rod Pelley of the Devils.

Either loss would be significant for this defense; losing both could be a major blow.

A third consecutive defeat would have been, as well, but the Penguins dodged that.

"Our third wasn't maybe as good as we wanted it to be, but we finished the game off," Crosby said. "You have to win close games like that, and we found a way."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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