James Neal had not scored a goal in eight games.
For a guy who hits the net as frequently as he does, it probably felt as if it were eight weeks. Maybe eight months.
So, when Neal got a Robert Bortuzzo rebound on his stick in the second minute of overtime Monday night at Consol Energy Center, he might have been tempted to rifle it toward the Ottawa net and simply hope it would elude goalie Craig Anderson.
YouTube video: Fleury makes amazing glove save
The Penguins beat Ottawa in a Monday night game that featured an amazing glove save by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. (YouTube video; 2/4/2014)
But Neal opted to hold onto the puck, skate backward into the right circle and then throw it at -- and into -- the Senators' net for the winner in the Penguins' 2-1 victory.
By moving away from the slot before releasing the puck, Neal was able to get away from Anderson and defenseman Marc Methot, both of whom were in front of the net, and shoot at a mostly open net.
"It felt like a little while, a lot longer than it probably was, trying to be patient with the puck there and wait for an opening," he said.
Turned out to be well worth the wait, though, as he got his 18th goal this season but first since Jan. 10.
The Penguins played most of the evening without winger Taylor Pyatt, who was injured on the first shift of the game when he fell awkwardly into the boards after trying to throw a check. He was helped to the locker room. There was no immediate word on the nature or severity of his injury.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 39-15-2 and preserved their streak of not losing consecutive games since Nov. 23-25.
While Neal's goal ended the game, a breathtaking save by Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the third period might be the only reason the game reached overtime.
With the score tied, 1-1, at 9:27, Fleury moved laterally across the crease while raising his glove to snare Erik Karlsson's shot from inside the right circle.
"That's something I did not count on," Karlsson said.
Neither did anyone else in the building. Not if they have any appreciation for what a gifted scorer Karlsson is, and what an exquisite opportunity he had during that sequence.
"It was an amazing save," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, noting that Fleury "didn't just stick his glove out" to catch a puck that was being shot into it.
Anderson, who turned aside 46 of 48 shots, described Fleury's stop on Karlsson as "a game-changer."
Karlsson's shot was one of 25 the Senators got on Fleury; the only one to get past him came from Stephane Da Costa, who stuck a high shot past him from the bottom of the left circle at 14:05 of the opening period.
Brian Gibbons countered for the Penguins on a power play less than two minutes later as he deflected an Olli Maatta shot out of the air and by Anderson at 16:23 for his third of the season.
Gibbons praised Maatta for allowing the play to develop before shooting -- "He waited for me to get in front," Gibbons said -- but the deft touch Gibbons showed by getting his stick on that shot is evidence of why he has been auditioning as Pascal Dupuis' replacement on the No. 1 line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
Gibbons, though, downplayed the idea that he's competing to fill that role for the balance of the regular season and playoffs.
"That's not really my focus," he said, adding that his objective is to "just try to play the right way, no matter who you play with, and just do the little things each game."
The Penguins did a lot of the little things they wanted to against the Senators, maintaining their concentration and patience in a game in which power plays and scoring chances did not come along very often.
Ottawa had two chances with the extra man, the Penguins three.
"In terms of playing with the puck and playing without the puck, we didn't give them a lot defensively," Bylsma said.
"We had to stick with it all night long, through the refereeing, through the tough sledding in the game. We did, and it's definitely a building block for our team."
Just as Neal's goal could be one that gets him back in a goal-scoring rhythm.
"When you don't score, sometimes you start trying to pick corners and be a little too cute with it," he said. "It's something maybe I've done in the past few games."
Monday night, Neal didn't try to be too precise. Just patient. And lethal.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published February 3, 2014 9:50 PM