Penguins 7-0 in shootouts
Matt Cooke, right, congratulates Evgeni Malkin after Malkin scored in the shootout against the Red Wings Sunday.
Sidney Crosby scores the winning goal in the shootout against Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard Sunday at Mellon Arena.
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The Penguins figure it never should have gotten to that point, and understandably so.
Run up a 45-21 advantage in shots in regulation -- including a 29-11 edge in the first 40 minutes -- and a quality team probably shouldn't have to go to overtime, let alone a shootout, to earn a victory. Even against an opponent as accomplished as Detroit.
Pretty sound logic there. Trouble is, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard rejected it the way he did almost everything else the Penguins sent at him.
"He looked so calm and collected in net there," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He makes the first save and he's never out of position for the rebound. He's been just getting better and better."
Well, as long as there was a clock running, anyway.
But after stopping 46 of 47 shots in regulation and overtime, allowing only a backhand goal from close range by Sidney Crosby, Howard was beaten by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in a shootout that sealed the Penguins' 2-1 victory Sunday at Mellon Arena.
Matchup: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Which means that, brilliant as Howard was all afternoon, he allowed more shootout goals during the span of a couple of minutes than Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins has all season.
The Penguins are 7-0 in shootouts, in large part because Fleury is 5-0 after denying 14 of the 15 shooters he has faced. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that his goaltending partner, Brent Johnson, is 6 for 6 in shootouts).
"He's been doing an unbelievable job," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "He loves the one-on-one competition."
Crosby doesn't seem to mind it much, either. He has scored on six of seven tries, which means he has one more shootout goal than the rest of his teammates, combined.
With a goalie who has been virtually unbeatable and at least one shooter who is a near-lock to score, it would be only natural if the Penguins went into shootouts convinced the only uncertainty centered on what their margin of victory will be.
Not so, according to winger Bill Guerin.
"You never take those things for granted," he said. "We'll take it and move along and wait for the next one."
That could come as early at 7:08 tonight, when Buffalo visits Mellon Arena.
The Penguins (34-21-1) trail the Northeast Division-leading Sabres by two points but, more important, have moved back to within three of New Jersey, which is first in the Atlantic Division.
What's more, they padded their lead over fifth-place Ottawa in the Eastern Conference to three. That's significant because the fourth-place club will have home-ice advantage against the fifth-place finisher in the first round of the playoffs.
"If you look at the last couple of years, it's definitely been beneficial to [have home ice], especially last year in the first round against [Philadelphia]," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Chuckling, he added, "But the way we play on the road this year vs. the way we've played at home, maybe we want to start on the road."
While the Penguins' record at Mellon Arena is fairly ordinary, 16-10-1, they showed Sunday what they're capable of doing there, controlling play for much of the afternoon.
"We deserved to win that, obviously, in 60 minutes, but that wasn't the case," Crosby said. "They're an experienced team. They know how to win. They fought back."
Crosby's goal at 16:46 of the second period stood up until 11:10 of the third, when Detroit's Dan Cleary deflected a Brad Stuart shot past Fleury.
The teams combined for 26 shots in those last 20 minutes; but that was the only one that made it into either net.
"Both goalies, in the third, battled to keep their teams in it," Crosby said.
The Penguins reasserted themselves as the period progressed -- "The first five or six minutes of the third, they elevated their game," Dupuis said. "But we had another level, too, and we brought it" -- although they couldn't claim their two points until the shootout.
Which precedent suggested was the probable outcome after the Penguins survived a Detroit power play that spanned the final 81 seconds of overtime.
"I like our chances, with this group of guys, skill-wise," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "You don't expect to win every [shootout], but our chances are pretty good."
First Published February 1, 2010 12:00 am