Conner steps up to front
Chris Conner scores the winning goal against Florida Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun late in the third period Monday night.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blocks a shot in the first period.
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- He had a plan, Peter DeBoer did.
Sounded like a good one, too.
Well-conceived. Utterly logical.
Hours before the Penguins' 3-2 victory against Florida Monday night at the BankAtlantic Center, DeBoer, the coach of the Panthers, had laid out his objective: Do some quality damage control against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, and take his chances against their teammates.
"If you can limit those guys to one goal, I think you're going to have a chance," DeBoer said. "We have to keep them from having a two-, three-, four-goal, four-point night ... They're obviously for me -- and for anybody -- the key."
And after a tough start, his club did a pretty fair job on Crosby and Malkin, not allowing either a point in the final 48 minutes.
Trouble is, the Panthers weren't quite as effective against Chris Conner -- who, understandably, had not been one of their pre-game priorities -- and he got the winning goal at 12:56 of the third period.
Conner, playing in his sixth NHL game this season, took a feed from linemate Mark Letestu and beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun from the inner edge of the right circle to break a 2-2 tie.
"I was trying to get it off quick," Letestu said. "It was in tight, so I figured I'd surprise him."
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 12-8-2 and puts them on a 5-0-1 roll.
The Panthers, by the way, did not shut down Crosby and Malkin. Crosby finished with a goal and an assist to extend his scoring streak to nine games, and Malkin got an assist.
Backup goalie Brent Johnson had been scheduled to start against the Panthers, but gave way to Marc-Andre Fleury because of illness. Johnson was well enough to participate in the game-day skate and pregame warm-ups, however, and is expected to play Wednesday in Buffalo, N.Y.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma made a couple of other lineup changes, dressing defenseman Ben Lovejoy and right winger Eric Godard. Lovejoy had been a healthy scratch for the previous five games and eight of the previous nine, while Godard had dressed for just one of the previous eight.
Forwards Mike Rupp and Mike Comrie and defenseman Deryk Engelland were given off. It's conceivable all three will be in uniform against the Sabres, since Bylsma generally tries to get everyone some work during the annual "Dads Trip," when players' fathers accompany them on the road.
The Penguins entered the game with the No. 25 power play in the NHL, scoring on just 13.5 percent of their chances with the extra man.
Nonetheless, DeBoer had cautioned that the Panthers had to be wary of giving them too many opportunities.
"We have to stay out of the penalty box," he said. "Even though their power play isn't highly rated, you get that kind of skill together, you're just playing with fire [by taking penalties]."
Didn't take long for the Penguins to underscore that point. Five seconds, to be precise.
Stephen Weiss of the Panthers was sent off for running into Fleury at 4:02 of the opening period; at 4:07, Kris Letang launched a slap shot past Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun from the right point.
Assists went to Paul Martin and Crosby; Chris Kunitz didn't receive one, but he made the goal possible by setting up directly in front of Vokoun as Letang was shooting.
Florida's penalty-killers fared much better the next time they were called upon. Which is to say, the Penguins needed nearly the full two minutes to score.
Crosby got this one at 11:07, as he got a feed from Tyler Kennedy in front and caught Vokoun moving the wrong way across the crease. Crosby flipped in his 15th goal eight seconds before a hooking minor against Marty Reasoner was to expire.
"It was nice," Crosby said. "One of those things where they got a few penalties, and we made them pay."
Just 35 seconds before the intermission, however, Cory Stillman of Florida bunted a rebound out of the air and past Fleury to make it 2-1 and the Panthers pulled even early when Bryan McCabe scored at 6:47.
Fox Chapel native Bill Thomas, playing in his second game with the Panthers, got an assist on McCabe's goal.
That was the final one the Panthers would get.
First Published November 23, 2010 12:00 am