Penguins' price not so right in 4-2 win
Joe Vitale drives hard to the net against Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom in the first period Tuesday night in Minnesota.
Minnesota's Marco Scandella, right, crashes into the glass after checking Richard Park.
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nobody said that winning in this league would be easy. Or cheap. Or painless.
Even so, the Penguins seem to be paying a ridiculously high price for the points they have gotten this season.
They have 10 of them in the wake of a 4-2 victory against Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night. It does not take much calculating to realize that they have a little more than one for every player who is out of the lineup, mostly because of injuries.
"Ever since I've been here, guys have been going down," winger James Neal said. "That's the way guys play here. They leave it all out on the ice."
Not just perspiration, but blood and teeth and whatever else is required. The corporate accountants have to be thrilled that the medical staff does not work on an hourly basis.
The Penguins already watered-down lineup was further diluted when defenseman Kris Letang was assessed a two-game suspension a few hours before the opening faceoff.
Letang was ordered to sit out the Wild game, as well as one at home against Montreal Thursday night, because of a hit from behind on Winnipeg's Alexander Burmistrov in the third period of the Penguins' 2-1 loss to the Jets Monday night.
"The league is trying to avoid those hits," Letang said.
He joked after the game that, "I don't think they missed me at all," but the Penguins understandably are pleased that they will have to get by without Letang for only one more game.
Brian Strait was recalled from the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre to replace Letang. In keeping with recent trends, Strait left the game early in the second period with an apparent left arm/hand injury after logging nine shifts and six minutes, 52 seconds of ice time.
Letang is the latest addition to an absentees list that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey. Get all of those guys in uniform, and you'd have the foundation of a pretty fair club.
When Crosby and Malkin are out of the mix, the Penguins offense is not nearly as imposing as it would be under normal circumstances. (Not that circumstances have been normal for this team for more than a year now, of course.)
"They're some of the best players, so that's a big thing," Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom said.
"But, for a goalie, you have to go out there and be ready for every shot.
"It doesn't matter who [is shooting]. You respect every player the same way."
The Penguins surely earned some respect with their gritty performance against the Wild, especially when Strait was not the only guy hurt over the course of the evening.
Deryk Engelland, Joe Vitale and goalie Brent Johnson had injuries of varying severity -- Johnson was the only one of the three who did not miss at least a little playing time -- and it is likely that a few others were banged up as well.
"It was a good team effort," center Jordan Staal said.
After a scoreless first period, Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 46 seconds into the second by beating Backstrom with a slap shot from above the left hash mark for his first of the season.
Minnesota's Brad Staubitz picked up a double-minor for high-sticking Vitale at 5:15, and Staal capitalized by sweeping in a shot from the left side of the crease at 7:14.
The Penguins lost half their cushion almost immediately, however, as Cal Clutterbuck beat Johnson on a near two-on-zero shorthanded break with Mikko Koivu at 8:07.
Neal gave the Penguins a little margin for error early in the third when he stole the puck just outside the Minnesota blue line, carried it into the Wild end and beat Backstrom from the left dot at 3:38 for his sixth.
There seemed to be a very real threat of Johnson leaving the game as the middle of the period approached, when he hurt his right knee after it got pinned under him as teammate Matt Niskanen fell on him.
"I kind of felt something off there at first," Johnson said. "It kind of hurt putting weight on it."
Johnson remained in the game, though, and Pascal Dupuis gave him some extra breathing room with a shorthanded goal at 12:21.
Guillaume Latendresse punched a rebound past Johnson at 13:12 to slice the Penguins lead to 4-2, but the Wild could get no closer.
First Published October 19, 2011 12:00 am