Penguins' losing streak ends with 2-1 shootout win at Ottawa
The Ottawa Senators' Chris Phillips, left, hits Penguins winger Matt Cooke in the second period.
James Neal, right, had the Penguins only goal in regulation -- in the first period. Evgeni Malkin, left, scored the winner in the shootout.
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OTTAWA -- The Penguins were having trouble pulling away from the Ottawa Senators.
They missed on a couple of good scoring chances.
They lost defenseman Matt Niskanen late in the first period to an unspecified injury.
And, as the second period unfolded, they began to have some of the same lapses that led to two losses in a row before this game Sunday at Scotiabank Place.
But the Penguins weren't going to play the part of fish in a barrel for the Senators. They got strong play from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the five remaining healthy defensemen, then got goals from their three big-name forwards in the shootout for a 2-1 win.
That kept them from falling under .500, moving to 3-2 in a lockout-shortened season where making up ground is tough to do.
"I thought our team did a pretty good job of realizing we were in that position and had to play on the defensive side a little bit more and play in the offensive zone to minimize the impact on our [defensemen]," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Ottawa was missing a key component, too. It played without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was a late scratch because of illness.
Fleury stopped 31 shots and another in the shootout and played "as solid and square as we've seen him," Bylsma said of his goalie, who previously in regular-season starts in Ottawa was 2-4 with two no-decisions and was pulled in four of the eight games.
James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson in the shootout, while Fleury stopped Milan Michalek before letting in goals by Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris.
"I think we needed a good 60-minute game," Fleury said. "We got a good 65-minute game.
"Guys were careful defensively. We didn't give up too many back-door [plays] or odd-man rushes."
At times, the Penguins reverted to some poor puck management, a plague that cost them in losses in their previous two games against Toronto and Winnipeg.
"End of the second period in particular for us, we had a few turnovers, times we didn't manage the puck well enough," Bylsma said. "We saw it go up and down the ice a little bit more than we would like, but I thought especially in the third period we played well with the puck, we played well away from the puck and we did a good job of tracking back on their opportunities."
The Senators got their lone goal in that portion of the second period.
Malkin got to a sliding puck at center ice, but it got into his skates and Spezza poached it from behind. Spezza raced down on what became a two-on-two break. His shot pulled Fleury toward the right post, and Colin Greening banged in the rebound.
That tied it, 1-1, at 13:44 of the second period.
Malkin set up the Penguins' regulation goal with a slick cross-ice pass through the slot. Neal was alone at right dot and blistered a one-timer past Anderson to make it 1-0 at 13:31 of the first period.
That gave Malkin 324 career assists, moving him into a seventh-place tie with Rick Kehoe on the Penguins all-time list.
"It was a big goal. A great pass by [Malkin]," Neal said.
"But the team battled the full 60 minutes. We had a tough couple of losses against Toronto and Winnipeg. We needed to come in here and have a big game."
Erik Condra nearly put Ottawa ahead at 9:05 of the third period when his shot from the right circle squeaked through Fleury. But the puck came to rest on -- not quite over -- the goal line.
In overtime, with four-on-four play, it got "into a little bit of a track meet, but our team did a good job minimizing those situations," Bylsma said.
Two of those plays by defensemen in overtime stood out.
Deryk Engelland got back to thwart a breakaway by Jakob Silfverberg, and Paul Martin shut down a good chance by Erik Karlsson.
For the shootout, Bylsma opted away from regular Kris Letang and instead went with his three forward snipers in the first -- and, this night, only -- round. It paid off, but Bylsma claimed it wasn't some genius coach's hunch or even a bow to Letang having played 29 minutes, 10 seconds with a shortened defensive bench.
"Having a left[-handed] shot in particular against Anderson was the difference in going with James and not going with Kris [first]," Bylsma said. "Kris would have been up next."
First Published January 28, 2013 12:00 am