PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished about all that is possible on the ice the last four years by winning a Stanley Cup, playing for another and capturing some of the NHL’s top individual awards.
Everything, that is, except converting a penalty shot.
Chris Conner scored on Pittsburgh’s first successful penalty shot since 2007, Jordan Staal added his third goal in three games and the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins beat the injury-thinned Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Conner made it 2-0 by going from his forehand to his backup to beat backup goalie Joey MacDonald between the pads 11:29 into the first period, about eight minutes after Staal scored. He was awarded the penalty shot after being hooked by Kris Draper.
“I kind of knew what I was going to do the whole time going in, you just have to execute and make it work,” Conner said.
Pittsburgh had been 0 for 12 on penalty shots since Jarkko Ruutu scored against Toronto on Jan. 20, 2007, coincidentally with the same move that Conner used.
“No one brought that to my attention,” Conner said of the lengthy streak. “I’m glad they didn’t tell me before that.”
Two of the NHL’s best teams met for only the third time since facing each other in the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup finals—they split a pair of games last season—but a number of top names were missing.
Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer, sat out a sixth consecutive game with a concussion. The Red Wings were without goalies Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood, forwards Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary and defenceman Brad Stuart.
The Red Wings took 18 of a possible 26 points in their first 13 games after Datsyuk started their run of injuries by breaking his right hand, but Detroit’s lack of depth showed up as Pittsburgh won its third in a row.
The Penguins were 0-1-2 in their first three games without Crosby, who might not return until after the Jan. 30 all-star game.
MacDonald, playing in only his fifth game this season, made an early mistake that led to Staal’s goal 3:02 into the game.
The goalie took too long to play the puck behind the net, allowing Tyler Kennedy to steal a short pass intended for Jonathan Ericsson and feed it to an undefended Staal at the side of the net. Staal, who missed the first half of the season with an infected foot and broken hand, has three goals and six points in three games.
Staal also was used against Detroit’s top line, featuring Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
“A turnover off the goalie, a penalty shot, we paid attention these little details,” Penguins defenceman Kris Letang said. “Our forwards did a great job to capitalize on it.”
Given a 2-0 lead, all-star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the lead stand up by making 36 saves. Fleury, 21-11-2 despite winning only once in his first seven starts, has 80 saves in his last two starts. He stopped 44 shots in a 3-2 victory over Boston on Saturday.
“Sloppy plays and mistakes and giveaways and the puck ended up in our net. It is disappointing,” said Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom, who was selected all-star captain earlier in the day.
So are the injuries, but the Red Wings are complicating the problem by repeatedly falling behind early in games.
“Every team goes through injuries,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to find a way to prepare way better than we have, especially at the start of the game. It’s tough to be down 2-0 early.”
Franzen’s 20th goal got Detroit to within 2-1 at 17:28 of the second. Chris Kunitz needed only 30 seconds to restore Pittsburgh’s two-goal lead, deflecting Kronwall’s up-ice pass to Evgeni Malkin before scoring off a rebound of Pascal Dupuis’ backhander.
Matt Cooke scored into an empty net with 1:19 remaining.
Crosby said earlier in the day he is getting better, but still has headaches and is uncertain when he will return. He has not played or practised since being driven headfirst into the boards by the Lightning’s Victor Hedman on Jan.5.
NOTES: Each team now has 62 points. Vancouver began the night with a league-high 64. … MacDonald is 1-4-1 against Pittsburgh. … Penguins F Max Talbot, who scored both goals for Pittsburgh in a 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit two seasons ago, doesn’t gave a goal in 21 games. … Malkin’s assist on Kunitz’s goal was his third point in the six games without Crosby, with no goals. … Penguins F Mark Letestu signed a two-year contract extension that runs through 2012-13 and averages US$625,000 per season. … The Penguins are 6-0-1 when Conner scores.