Dupuis, Neal spark Penguins to 4-2 win over Wild
ST. PAUL, Minn.—Whether due to injuries or penalties, playing short-handed hasn't deterred the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Man down? They just man up.
Pascal Dupuis had a short-handed goal and an assist, James Neal scored for the sixth time this season and the depleted Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Tuesday night.
"Ever since I got here through last year, it's just the way the team runs," Neal said. "Everyone knows what they have to do. Every guy does his job out there."
Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal also got goals and Matt Cooke had two assists for the Penguins, who were winless in their previous three games. They have already played eight times in the first 13 days of the season, improving to 4-2-2 without star Sidney Crosby and a bunch of others.
But the most impressive number is this: 20 for 20, their success rate on the penalty kill on the road. Overall, they are 26 for 27, after squelching five Wild power plays in this game.
"We've been fantastic all year. It's a simple thing with communication between myself, the d-men and the forwards and trying to simplify everything as much as possible," said backup goalie Brent Johnson, who made 24 saves. "Just high and hard around the boards and get it out as quick as we could and make them go 200 feet."
Wild coach Mike Yeo was concerned his special teams players are trying too hard to be the one who scores. They have failed to score on 10 straight power plays, spanning their last three games.
"We have enough good players where we should be at the very least creating momentum and ideally putting pucks in the net," said Matt Cullen, who assisted on Guillaume Latendresse's first goal in almost a year.
Cal Clutterbuck cut the lead to 2-1 when Mikko Koivu pried the puck loose from former teammate Dupuis to fuel a 2-on-1 and blocked defenseman Paul Martin football style to set up the short-handed goal. But the Wild paid for another flat start and fell to 2-2-2. Yeo said he's not concerned with his team's character or the leadership, but rather the preparation.
"If a team's going to come into our building, they should know that they're going to be playing against the Minnesota Wild and it should not be a lot of fun," Yeo said. "I don't think that we made Pittsburgh feel that way in the first period."
Yeo, trying to spark a stagnant offense, moved Pierre-Marc Bouchard up to the first line with Dany Heatley and Koivu, sliding Devin Setoguchi down to skate with Cullen and Latendresse. In the last five games, Heatley, Koivu and Setoguchi have struggled -- with just one goal among them.
Setoguchi said he understood the decision.
"It's obviously frustrating for us because we know we can be a good team. We've just got to find a way to play a full 60 minutes," defenseman Greg Zanon said.
The Penguins learned a few hours before faceoff they would be without defenseman Kris Letang, who received a two-game suspension from the NHL for a boarding penalty in Monday's game at Winnipeg, a hit from behind the league is cracking down on.
At this point, what was one more absence for coach Dan Bylsma to fill? Crosby (concussion recovery) and sidekick Evgeni Malkin (sore knee) were back in Pittsburgh, along with defenseman Brooks Orpik (lower-body injury) and wing Dustin Jeffrey (knee surgery recovery), at various stages of their rehabilitation. Plus, center Tyler Kennedy missed his second straight game due to post-concussion symptoms.
Defenseman Brian Strait, who was brought up from the minors earlier Tuesday, hobbled off with an upper-body injury and didn't come back.
"We are completely content with the guys that we have in this dressing room every night, and we feel like we can go out there and be competitors and win the game," Bylsma said.
Staal has helped keep the first line intact. Neal has brought his goal total to 19 in 31 games over the last three Octobers.
Kunitz scored 46 seconds into the second period when he got his stick on Zanon's clearing attempt and turned a give-and-go pass from Dupuis into his first goal of the season.
After Brad Staubitz caught Joe Vitale in the face with a high stick, drawing a four-minute double-minor, Staal used the power play to put Pittsburgh up 2-0. Niklas Backstrom couldn't corral the rebound of Zybnek Michalek's slap shot, Cooke poked it away and Staal made a nifty pivot move near the crease to find the loose puck and deposit it in the open net.
"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."
NOTES: Dupuis has three goals and three assists in five career games against the Wild. ... The Penguins are 4-0-1 when leading after two periods. They have outscored opponents 11-4 in the second period this season. ... Latendresse was hurt last season and only appeared in 11 games. ... The Wild were 9-2-1 in their previous 12 games, including four straight wins, against the Penguins with a 39-20 scoring edge. ... Matt Niskanen fell on Johnson's right leg during a third-period collision in the net, but the goalie stayed in the game.