GLENDALE, Ariz. – Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had plenty of talented players to pick from in the third round of the shootout.
So who did he choose? Rookie Mark Letestu.
Good call, Coach.
Using a move he perfected in the minors, Letestu scored the only goal of a shootout after Brent Johnson was steady in replacing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and helped the Penguins rally for a 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
“I’ve seen Mark take a lot of shootouts and be a go-to guy in those situations in the American Hockey League,” said Bylsma, who was talked into using Letestu by assistant coach Tony Granato. “Giving him a chance to use some of the moves he has, it was nice to see that go in.”
Pittsburgh had lost five of six after being beaten 3-2 by Anaheim on Friday. The Penguins were sluggish early after that physical game and trailed 2-0 after another shaky performance by Fleury.
Johnson was steady, though, and Pittsburgh rallied in the second period with goals by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Chris Kunitz helped Pittsburgh recover from a 3-2 deficit with a tying goal in the third period—Crosby got an assist—but the Penguins couldn’t convert on a late power play in overtime.
Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was good against Crosby and Kris Letang in the shootout, sprawling out to make saves, but wasn’t ready for Letestu’s quick wrister that zipped in for the winner.
“I kind of knew I was going to go (third),” Letestu said. “I’ve had a lot of success in the minors and practice, and I was pretty happy when Dan called my number and I got a chance to win a hockey game.”
The Coyotes had their chances, particularly after getting to Fleury.
Coming off a 6-3 loss to Dallas on Friday, Phoenix played without captain Shane Doan (lower body) and defenceman Ed Jovanovski (illness). Charged up by a rare big crowd of 14,642, the Coyotes didn’t seem to mind and chased Fleury with two goals in the first 7 minutes.
Phoenix couldn’t sustain it, though, allowing Pittsburgh to come back thanks to a whiff by defenceman Derek Morris that led to an easy goal by Crosby and too much pressure in front of Bryzgalov.
Wojtek Wolski scored his first goal and added an assist, and Eric Belanger and Radim Vrbata also had goals for the Coyotes. But Phoenix missing on its three chances in the shootout.
Johnson poke-checked the puck away from Vrbata on the first attempt, did the splits to stop Wolski, and forced Lauri Korpikoski to shoot wide on the Coyotes’ final shot.
“It would have been better if we could have got the two points, but we did a lot of good things,” Belanger said. “We just have to learn to play with the lead.”
Bylsma has stuck with Fleury despite his struggles—and Johnson’s solid play—this season and had him in the lineup again against the Coyotes after the loss to the Ducks.
Belanger scored 2½ minutes in on a rush, taking a feed from Wolski and using a deke to beat Fleury to the near-side post. About three minutes later, Vrbata crashed his body into the net, and put the puck between Fleury’s pads, making it 2-0. The goal was upheld after a long video review.
Fleury was yanked right after the goal, adding another dimension to Pittsburgh’s goalie drama.
“Obviously, not a result you want from your starting goaltender,” Bylsma said. “I thought at that point the best thing for our team was to switch it up.”
Johnson was spectacular at times, including a glove-snatching save during a power play, and things got better quickly for the Penguins in the second period.
Crosby scored his ninth goal 1:16 in, scooping up a gaffe by Morris in front of his crease and beating Bryzgalov gloveside. Malkin scored his fourth of the season three minutes later, lifting in a tough-angle shot off the crossbar to tie it at 2-all.
Wolski made it 3-2 on a shot that caromed off Pittsburgh defenceman Paul Martin’s leg past Johnson, but Kunitz scored on a one-timer with 33 seconds left in the period on Letestu’s pass from behind the net just seconds after Phoenix escaped a two-man, short-handed situation.
Both goalies were solid in the third period and overtime, setting up the shootout the Coyotes thought they should have won.
“The adversity keeps piling onto us, and I like the way we responded,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We had a couple of key plays that we’d like to have back, but I thought we battled hard.”
NOTES: Phoenix has allowed six goals in the first period this season, second-best in the NHL to Boston’s three. … Fleury has been stuck on 149 career wins since beating Nashville on Oct. 21. … The Coyotes are 0-3-1 on the second of back-to-back games.