A night after suffering perhaps their most disheartening loss of the young season, the gritty Penguins rebounded with an inspired effort to defeat the Minnesota Wild 4-2.
The game marked a reunion of sorts. Minnesota GM (and former Pens executive) Chuck Fletcher hired ex-Pittsburgh assistant Mike Yeo, who dumped the Wild’s traditional trap in favor of a puck-possession game. Armed with talented newcomers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, the new-look Wild figured to be a challenging foe.
Skating without top defenseman Kris Letang—who was suspended for two games earlier in the day—and a host of other stars, the undermanned Penguins carried the play to Minnesota through a scoreless first period.
“We are completely content with the guys we have in this dressing room,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. “We feel like we can go out there and be competitors and win the game.”
The Pens snatched the lead early in the second period when Pascal Dupuis found Chris Kunitz in the left-wing circle with a pretty pass. “Kunie” made no mistake and whipped the puck past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom for his first goal of the season. Four minutes later, Minnesota tough guy Brad Staubitz high-sticked Joe Vitale along the boards to hand the visitors a four-minute power play. Jordan Staal made him pay, sweeping home a made-to-order rebound from the edge of the crease at 7:14.
Enjoying their first two-goal lead in a week, the Penguins may have been guilty of easing up. Less than a minute later Cal Clutterbuck chugged up the ice on a two-on-one break and beat Brent Johnson for a short-handed goal.
Backed by another strong performance from Johnson (24 saves), the Penguins nursed a 2-1 lead until 3:38 of the third period, when James Neal widened the margin with a terrific individual effort. The big winger scooped up the puck in the neutral zone and turned on the jets before beating Backstrom with a crackling wrist shot.
Nine minutes later Dupuis applied the icing on the cake when he swooped in front of the Wild net and flipped in a backhander for a short-handed tally. Although Guillaume Latendresse countered with a wrister from close range at 13:12, the outcome was never in doubt.
“All 20 guys on the ice are battling for the same goal, to win hockey games,” Dupuis said. “And we do it one way. Whoever’s in the lineup plays hard every night.”
Johnson shook off a right leg injury in the third period to earn the No. 1 star … The Penguins dominated the face-off circle, winning 36 of 65 draws … Neal (6 goals) has scored 19 goals in 31 games over the last three Octobers … The Pens killed off five Minnesota power plays … Dupuis and Matt Cooke paced the Pens with two points apiece … Brian Strait, recalled from Wilkes-Barre to replace Letang, left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury … Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin, and Brooks Orpik were scratches.
The Penguins (4-2-2) return to CONSOL Energy Center to face Montreal (1-3-1) on Thursday night. The Pens trail the all-time series with the Canadiens, 51-108-29.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.