PITTSBURGH – Jussi Jokinen hasn’t been in town long enough to know the North Side from the South Side, but he’s already won the hearts of Pittsburgh Penguins fans.
The newly acquired Jokinen scored early in the third period, then had the only goal in the shootout as the Penguins beat the New York Rangers 2-1 at Consol Energy Center Friday night.
“When you come to a new team, you want to make a solid first impression,” Jokinen said.
He did, according to coach Dan Bylsma.
“He had a lot of jump,” Bylsma said. “He was exceptional in the faceoff circle. He played really well.”
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 shots to help the Penguins end the two-game losing streak that followed a perfect March in which they won all 15 games.
The Penguins, who are already without Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), and defensemen Kris Letang (broken toe) and Paul Martin (hand surgery), lost left wing James Neal during the game.
Neal left in the third period after he took Michael Del Zotto’s elbow to the head. Neal appeared to be woozy as he headed down the tunnel to the training room.
Bylsma said he had no immediate report on Neal’s condition. Asked about the legality of the hit, Bylsma said, “(Del Zotto) obviously knows James is coming and goes for a reverse hit. I don’t think there’s any question about where the contact was and where he made contact.”
Jokinen, acquired from Carolina at Wednesday’s trade deadline to add depth while Crosby is out indefinitely, centered the Penguins’ top line with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. He played 15:02 and had one shot, which was the Penguins’ only goal.
It looked a lot like playoff hockey, a contrast from Thursday’s sloppy game at Madison Square Garden. The difference for the Penguins was Fleury.
Fleury stopped Rick Nash’s backhander midway through the first period, one of seven shots Nash had. Seconds earlier, Fleury had alertly stopped a redirect try by Anton Stralman.
“They had three or four golden chances on their power play right from the middle,” Bylsma said. “(Fleury) really was strong in there tonight.”
Fleury also had a couple of key saves against Derek Stepan from close range. He robbed Stepan at 8:21 of the third period from less than 10 feet. Stepan took a high shot that Fleury gloved.
Fleury also used his glove to stop former teammate Arron Asham midway through the second period. With 4:52 to go and the Rangers on the power play, Fleury was able to keep Derick Brassard’s shot out of the net.
“(Fleury) was solid,” Dupuis said. “He was the reason we won tonight.”
“We had some tough games,” Fleury said of the consecutive losses. “Tonight, the guys stuck to the plan and played hard. It paid off at the end.”
After two scoreless periods, Jokinen finally broke through 30 seconds into the third period. Dupuis carried the puck into the zone, and got it to Chris Kunitz behind the net.
Jokinen moved into the slot, and Kunitz spotted him. Kunitz made a quick pass that Jokinen one-timed over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove.
“Big first shift of the period from those guys,” Bylsma said.
The Rangers scored at 15:11 of the third as a power play expired. Stepan won a faceoff, and Nash’s quick shot beat Fleury.
The Penguins had the best chance in overtime, but Lundqvist was able to get his pad out to stop Dupuis.
Jokinen, who has excelled in the shootout, was the Penguins’ first shooter and the only one who succeeded. Jokinen skated toward the right wing boards, then came back, shifted backhand to forehand and put his shot over Lundqvist.
“That’s my number one move,” Jokinen said. “I’ve had lots of shootouts, but that’s the first (goal) against Lundqvist. I just decided to try that one, and I got a pretty good shot.”
Fleury stopped Nash and Mats Zuccarello in the shootout, then sealed the win by getting his stick on Ryan Callahan’s shot.
“(Fleury) was awesome, for 65 minutes and right through the shootout,” defesneman Brooks Orpik said. “Those were three really good shooters he saw in the shootout.”
The Penguins have 54 shootout wins, second only to New Jersey’s 56. … The Penguins outhit the Rangers 39-27, with Orpik’s seven hits leading. … The Penguins have a three-day break until their next game, Tuesday in Carolina.