Jokinen near perfect in Penguins' debut to spark win over Rangers


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Don't get the wrong idea about Jussi Jokinen's first game with the Penguins.

He could have done better.

Sure, he got their only regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout victory against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center Friday night, then clinched the second point by being the only shooter on either team to score during the shootout.

And, yeah, he did a solid job -- or better -- filling the void Sidney Crosby's injury created between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on the No. 1 line.

But none of that takes away from the fact that Jokinen lost two faceoffs. Yes, an entire pair of them.

Of course, he also won 13 others, so the Penguins probably can live with it.

"He had a lot of jump in his game, right from the start," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was exceptional in the faceoff circle. He played really well."

So, no, Jokinen wasn't perfect. Not quite, anyway. But he was close enough to make it possible for the Penguins (29-10) to snap their losing streak at two games.

"He was the story of the game," Dupuis said. "It was great to see him come in and have an impact right away. It's good for his confidence, good for our team."

Jokinen, though, wasn't the only Penguins to have a profound impact on the outcome. Wasn't even the story of the game, for that matter.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 of the 35 shots New York threw at him in regulation and overtime, then denied Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Callahan during the shootout to seal the victory.

"We dominated the third [period]," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "The reason we don't win the game in the third is Fleury."

Important as the victory was for the Penguins, on a number of levels, it came at a potentially high price.

Winger James Neal left the game at 11:18 of the third period after being dropped by an apparent elbow to the head from Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and did not return.

"I just tried to reverse-hit [Neal] and brace myself [for contact]," Del Zotto said. "I'm not sure exactly what happened there. I didn't really see it. I hope he's OK."

Neal was not available for comment on the incident, but Bylsma was.

"He obviously knows James is coming and goes for a reverse-hit," he said. "I don't think there's any question about where the contact was."

Neal clearly was dazed on the ice, and the obvious concern is that he might have a concussion.

"I don't have an update on his condition right now," Bylsma said. "We'll see in the next few days how he's doing."

There was no penalty assessed, and it remains to be seen whether Del Zotto will be summoned to the league office in New York to discuss the hit.

Neal's departure forced Bylsma to revamp the list of shootout participants he'd set up before the game. Neal had been scheduled to go first for the Penguins, with Jokinen penciled in second.

With Neal gone, Jokinen moved into the top slot and became the only player on either team to score in the shootout. The shootout goal was his 31st in the NHL, but his first against Henrik Lundqvist.

"I got off a pretty good shot," Jokinen said. "And luckily, [Fleury] did the rest, and we got two points."

Fleury's glove hand was a blur most of the night, and a lot faster than that the rest of the time.

"There were a few [glove saves] tonight," Fleury said. "I was happy. Those are always fun to do."

The only puck that eluded Fleury came off the stick of Nash, who beat him between the legs from the top of the left circle -- and through a screen -- at 15:11 of the third period, two seconds after the Penguins had killed a New York power play. That goal negated one Jokinen scored 30 seconds into the third, after Kunitz set him up in the left circle.

"That was a big first shift of the third period for those guys," Bylsma said.

Jokinen had a few of those over the course of the evening, and the impression he made on the ice in his debut couldn't have been much more favorable.

The focus of his comments afterward -- when Jokinen talked more about the significance of the victory than his role in it -- made an impression as well.

"It was big for us to stop the losing streak and to get those two points," he said. "That was huge."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 6, 2013 4:00 AM


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