Boasting an injury list that would keep a hospital staff fully employed, the plug ‘n’ play Penguins continue to find a way. Paced by Marc-Andre Fleury’s 24 saves and timely scoring from Chris Kunitz, the Steel City sextet staged a late rally at the Staples Center Saturday night to nip the Kings in a shootout.
The contest featured a match-up of two of the league’s elite goalies. Aptly named Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick entered the game with a sterling 94.1 save percentage, while Fleury’s was only slightly less impressive (93.2). The game also marked the black-and-gold debuts of Robert Bortuzzo and Alexandre Picard, who filled in ably for injured rearguards Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen.
Determined to snap their two-game losing streak, the injury-ravaged Pens grabbed the lead late in the first period, thanks to some undisciplined play by the Kings. Working on the tail-end of an extended power play, Steve Sullivan gathered in a pass from Kris Letang and drilled a sharp-angle shot past Quick for his first goal as a Penguin.
Los Angeles countered at 13:34 of the second period, courtesy of a giveaway by Richard Park. Justin Williams picked off the errant pass and slipped the puck to Slovakian sniper Anze Kopitar, who flipped a backhander over Fleury to halt his team’s goalless skein at 158 minutes.
Following 17 minutes of scoreless hockey the Penguins dodged a bullet with 9:30 left in regulation, when ex-Philly captain Mike Richards misfired on a penalty shot. Minutes later the Kings snatched the lead on a tap-in by another former Flyer, Simon Gagne. Dustin Brown appeared to put the game on ice with 3:20 to play. However, referee Kelly Sutherland immediately waved the goal off, claiming it was knocked in with a high stick.
Granted a reprieve, the Pens shifted into overdrive. On the ensuing rush Pascal Dupuis fed Jordan Staal, who dished the puck behind the net to Kunitz. The gritty Pens’ winger stepped out to the edge of the crease and beat Quick with a nifty backhander through the five-hole to knot the score at 2-2.
For the second game in a row the affair was decided by a shootout. The gifted Kopitar sent Fleury toppling head over heels with a brilliant move to give the home team the early edge. But Letang countered for the Pens with his second shootout tally of the season.
Fleury regained his composure, foiling Brown and Gagne to set the stage for Kunitz. Number 14 rambled down the slot and fired the puck between Quick’s pads for the game winner.
“It was a tight game from start to finish,” Fleury noted, “but it was nice to finally get those two points at the end.”
Letang (one assist) was voted No. 2 star … Kunitz paced the Pens with a game-high six shots … Fleury hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in 38 chances … The Penguins out-shot the Kings (33-26) but lost the face-off battle (41-22) … Staal returned to the lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury … Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Tyler Kennedy, Ben Lovejoy, Steve MacIntyre, Matt Niskanen, Zbynek Michalek, and Brian Strait were scratches.
The Penguins (9-3-3) enjoy a five-day break before facing off against Alex Goligoski and the tough Dallas Stars (9-3) at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night. The Pens lead the all-time series (63-56-13).
*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.