DENVER – The banged-up Pittsburgh Penguins had no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to swoop in and come to the rescue in overtime.
So up stepped Tyler Kennedy.
Kennedy scored a power-play goal 4:10 into overtime and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots in the Penguins’ 3-2 victory Wednesday night that sent the Colorado Avalanche to their ninth straight loss.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma isn’t asking his players to suddenly become the next Crosby or morph into a Malkin.
He merely wants them to be themselves.
“Staying focused on how we need to play,” said Bylsma, whose team snapped a two-game skid. “Making sure we’re playing the right way to give us a chance to have success. We’ve had a fair amount of success doing it. That’s really been the mindset and struggle of our team—to stay in that mindset.”
The Penguins were on the man advantage in overtime after Kevin Porter was called for tripping as he tried to chase down the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone.
Moments later, Alex Goligoski fired a shot that bounced off the pads of Peter Budaj and straight to Kennedy, who knocked in the rebound.
“Fortunate bounce,” Jordan Staal conceded.
These days, the bounces have hardly been fortunate for the Avalanche. The team remains in the midst of its longest skid since moving to Denver for the 1995-96 season.
Still, the Avalanche picked up a point for the first time since Jan. 24, which provided a little consolation.
“The effort was there,” forward Paul Stastny said. “Maybe we got a step closer. But we’ve got to keep doing that. We’ve got to keep kind of building on this. Eventually, if we keep playing like this, we’ll get a couple wins together.”
Joe Vitale and Staal added goals for the Penguins, who won in Denver for the first time since Feb. 25, 1999, during a matchup of two desperate and dinged-up teams.
“I know they’re having trouble, as well, and we knew it was going to be a tough battle but we came out on top,” Staal said.
Colorado tied the game in the second period on Chris Stewart’s goal—his second since returning from a broken hand on Jan. 14—and then took a 2-1 lead when Cameron Gaunce knocked in a shot from the blue line, the first goal of his NHL career.
The lead lasted only 32 seconds as Pittsburgh quickly countered on Staal’s sixth goal.
The play was set up by a pass from Nick Johnson, who moments earlier headed for the dressing room after taking a flurry of punches from Ryan Wilson.
An up-tempo first period featured plenty of end-to-end action and hard hits along the boards, yet just one score. Vitale recorded his first NHL goal when he beat Budaj with a high wrist shot.
The Avalanche were without leading scorer Matt Duchene, who is sidelined indefinitely after hurting his hand in a 9-1 loss to Calgary on Monday. The all-star forward has 21 goals and 26 assists.
This was the latest blow to a reeling squad that is missing captain Adam Foote (leg) for at least another week and T.J. Galiardi (forearm) for possibly two months.
Colorado also had Peter Forsberg pull the plug on a comeback bid Monday after just two games. The team insisted the Swedish star’s presence wasn’t a distraction, but it dropped nine of 10 since Forsberg began skating with the club on Jan. 22.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves,” coach Joe Sacco said after the morning skate. “No one else certainly will.”
Least of all the Penguins.
Crosby remains out indefinitely because of a concussion, while Malkin is done for the season due to a knee injury. Forwards Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi are also sidelined.
On Wednesday, hard-hitter Matt Cooke served the last of a four-game suspension for a shot on Columbus defenceman Fedor Tyutin. Eric Godard also sat out the second of a 10-game ban for leaving the bench to join a fight against the New York Islanders last week.
Once in the thick of the playoff race, the Avs have tumbled to near the bottom of the Western Conference.
“Obviously, we’re not happy with the results,” Sacco said. “But I think if we play like that, more often than not, we’ll certainly collect our share of wins here down the stretch.
“But again, for both sides missing key players, I thought there was good energy. I thought that there were chances on both sides, there was good goaltending on both sides. So, a fairly good game.”
Notes: Former Avs coach Tony Granato made a return to Colorado as an assistant with the Penguins. “I was here for seven years and I loved every second of it,” he said. … The Avs are 14-3-4 against Pittsburgh since moving to Denver.