With their lineup ravaged by injuries and illness, the Penguins refuse to lose
Jarkko Ruutu, left, attempts to get around New Jersey's Vitaly Vishnevski Tuesday night in Newark, N.J.
Ryan Malone scores off a rebound against New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.
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NEWARK, N.J. -- It's not accurate to say that injuries and illness have strip-mined all the talent off the Penguins' depth chart.
Fact is, there's still some pretty serious skill in their lineup.
But their 4-2 victory against New Jersey at the Prudential Center last night was more about grit than flash. About simply refusing to lose rather than being too gifted to be beaten.
"It doesn't look very pretty, but it gets the job done," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "New Jersey has won a couple of [Stanley] Cups playing hockey like that."
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 28-18-4 and allowed them to hurdle New Jersey in the Atlantic Division standings. They remain one point behind first-place Philadelphia.
The Penguins did a superb job of neutralizing the Devils' top line, which features Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Devils coach Brent Sutter.
"Your best players need to be your best players," he said. "Other teams' top players have outplayed ours."
But even as they were containing New Jersey's finest forwards, they Penguins were giving up two goals to center Mike Rupp. They were his first in 36 games, a dry spell that stretched to March 30, 2007.
"Some nights, that's just the way it works," Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. "Everyone's in this league for a reason."
In the case of some of the Penguins, they're here because of the exceptional run of injuries and illnesses the team has experienced of late.
Indeed, more than a quarter of the players they dressed last night have done hard time in the minors this season, but just about all of them made a meaningful contribution to taking two points from the Devils.
That includes Brooks Orpik, a defenseman by trade who was plugged into a hole at left wing and logged six minutes and 49 seconds of ice time at a thoroughly alien position, but still was the only Penguin credited with more than one hit.
After Rupp got the only goal of the opening period on a power play at 8:54, when he threw a rebound past Penguins goalie Ty Conklin from the right side of the crease, the Penguins pulled even on a fluky goal by Jordan Staal at 1:12 of the second.
He had the puck behind the goal line and tried to carry it in front of the net, only to have it swatted off his stick. The puck, however, glanced off the skate of Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya and skidded past goalie Martin Brodeur for Staal's sixth of the season.
Rupp put New Jersey back in front at 13:49, when his shot from just above the left dot caromed off Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and sailed past Conklin.
"[Rupp] played a good game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "You have to give the guy a lot of credit."
That goal could have deflated the Penguins, but they got a lucky bounce of their own less than a minute later to pull even again.
Max Talbot collected the rebound of a pass by Oduya after it bounced off the side of the New Jersey net and fed the puck in front to Erik Christensen.
With only his right hand on the stick, Christensen guided the puck behind Brodeur at 14:41.
Malone got what proved to be the winner at 16:13, taking a feed from Petr Sykora and beating Brodeur from in front.
Malone added some insurance during a power play at 5:21 of the third, backhanding a rebound out of the air and past Brodeur despite having his back to the net.
The goal, Malone's 13th, came seconds after Sykora put a shot off the right goal post.
Having a two-goal margin greatly expanded the Penguins' comfort zone, and they responded by limiting New Jersey to five shots during the final 20 minutes.
"In the third period, we were outstanding," Conklin said.
The Penguins played the kind of efficient defensive game they must to protect a lead.
It didn't create a lot of footage for their highlights tape, but that can be a back-burner issue, at most, until Sidney Crosby and some of their other teammates return.
"We really don't care," Whitney said. "Obviously, we're going to have to play a pretty simple game. We're missing a lot of skill."
First Published January 30, 2008 12:00 am