Penguins get back on winning track
PITTSBURGH – After a lost weekend against the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins got back on track Wednesday night.
James Neal scored twice to raise his season goal total to 10 as the Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 4-2 before 18,637 at the Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins welcomed back defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen. Letang had missed three games with a lower body injury, and Niskanen sat out eight games with an ankle injury.
It was a costly night for the Senators, who learned defenseman Erik Karlsson, last year’s Norris Trophy winner, is facing surgery after his left Achilles tendon was sliced by Matt Cooke’s skate during a collision along the boards in the waning seconds of the second period.
The Penguins fell behind 2-1 midway through the second period, when the Senators scored twice in 24 seconds. But Neal’s power-play goal at 13:47 turned the game in the Penguins’ favor and they avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“Their power play was better than ours,” Senators coach Paul Maclean said. “They got two on the power play. That was the difference.”
Officially, it was just one power-play goal as the other came just as the man advantage expired. But the point was correct.
“We won the battle of the special teams,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said.
Letang didn’t have any points, but he logged 4:41 of power play time as the Penguins were able to get back to their normal configuration. Martin, who took a bigger load in Letang’s absence, has been an asset on the power play.
Neal has been a key to the power play, scoring six of his goals in those situations.
“The guys I play with make a big difference,” Neal said, citing Letang, Martin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. “They all make it a lot easier for us.”
Neal converted Martin’s pass for the tying goal.
Cooke got a chance playing left wing on the Malkin-Neal line when combinations were shuffled in the second period. Cooke became the first left wing on that line to produce a point this season. Cooke won possession of the puck behind the net, and Neal was able to put in Deryk Engelland’s rebound.
Cooke doesn’t make a lot of fancy plays, but he’s effective.
“Matt has played with Evgeni and Sid before,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He doesn’t need to change his game to play up there. He forechecks, he’s responsible on the defensive side. I thought he played well there.”
Cooke wasn’t around for the finish. He was assessed a 10-minute misconduct at 17:54 of the third when Ottawa’s Chris Neil jumped him and tried to start a fight. That was apparently in retaliation for Cooke’s role in Karlsson’s injury, although the contact appeared to be incidental. Cooke’s left skate cut Karlsson just above his skate boot.
“It’s unfortunate that it happens on a nothing play,” MacLean said. “It could have potentially been whistled down. We all know who’s involved in it. That’s just the way it is. Injuries are part of the game. We just have to move forward.”
Asked if he thought Cooke had any responsibility, MacLean said, “That’s not up to me to decide.”
The Senators are already without Jason Spezza, who required back surgery and may not play again this season.
The Penguins’ last goal came as a power play expired at 11:42 of the third. The Penguins were able to maintain possession and sustain pressure. Martin slipped a pass to Crosby, who had an easy tap-in.
Pascal Dupuis scored in the first as Crosby was able to slide a pass over defenseman Mark Methot’s stick.
The Senators got a fluke goal at 10:31 of the second as Stephane DeCosta picked a bounce off the end boards. A neutral zone turnover led to Jim O’Brien scoring off Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove at 10:55.
Crosby’s assist on Dupuis’ goal was his 400th in the NHL. … The Penguins sent defenseman Dylan Reese back to Wilkes Barre. … Before the game, the team traded forward Eric Tangradi to Winnipeg for a seventh-round draft pick. Tangradi started the season as the left wing on Malkin’s line. … Forward Dustin Jeffrey and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were non-injured scratches. … The Penguins have scored a power play goal in six straight games. … Martin, who had only one penalty in 13 games, was called for three minors. … The Penguins open a two-game weekend trip Friday in Winnipeg.