Shootout goals from James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin cliched the Penguins’ third victory of the season, but a separate cast of characters was just as critical in Sunday night’s 2-1 shootout win at Scotiabank Place.
While Neal scored Pittsburgh’s only regulation goal, his team-leading fourth of the season, goaltending and defense were pivotal as the Penguins (2-3-0) stopped their two-game losing streak with good old-fashioned goal prevention.
With Matt Niskanen out with a lower-body injury for most of the night, his fellow defensemen Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik each played about a half hour each. Martin was especially strong, skating 30 minutes, 26 seconds and playing as confident with the puck as he has ever been in a Penguins uniform.
Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland were also mostly error-free on the Penguins blueline, but Marc-Andre Fleury definitely deserved a spot among the top performers of the night, too. Fleury absorbed 32 Senators shots, limiting rebounds and coming up with saves at critical moments, notably in the third period when the game opened up and chances were traded.
Only Colin Greening found a way to beat Fleury in regulation, as he polished off the rebound of Jason Spezza’s shot with 6:16 left in the second period. The Senators’ lone scoring play was preceded by an ugly Penguins turnover, but the visitors were generally much more careful with the puck than they had been in losses to Toronto and Winnipeg earlier this week.
It was Malkin’s giveaway at the Ottawa blue line that led to Greening’s goal, but the reigning NHL MVP also converted a Senators turnover into a sweet cross-ice dish to Neal at 13:31 of the first. Neal’s smooth one-timer from the right circle beat goalie Craig Anderson cleanly to the short side, helping the Penguins overcome a slow opening few minutes.
Although the game featured just two regulation goals, the third period was thrill-a-minute. Dynamic Ottawa defenseman – and last year’s Norris Trophy winner – Erik Karlsson orchestrated much of the Senators’ late push, including a golden chance from the high slot with under a minute to play in regulation.
Overtime featured back and forth play but both defenses kept threats to the outside, forcing both teams’ first shootout of the season. After Fleury denied Milan Michalek’s low snapper to start the skills competition, Neal gunned the puck under Anderson to put the Penguins on top.
Crosby and Malkin followed up with crisp backhand goals, negating scores from Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris and keeping the Senators (3-1-1) out of the win column for the second straight game.
The Pittsburgh power play was largely ineffective, coming up empty on five opportunities and keeping the Senators within quick comeback range. In other special-teams news, Matt Cooke couldn’t convert a shorthanded breakaway early in the second, the best of Anderson’s 33 saves.
The Penguins return to CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday to battle the New York Islanders at 7:30 p.m.