James Neal and Alex Kovalev Strike Again: Pens Top Panthers 2-1 in Shootout

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 27: Ben Lovejoy #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center on March 27, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Panthers Blog: Litterbox Cats

Disappointing as it is to see The Real Deal James Neal and Alex(ei) Kovalev both struggle a bit in regulation play, there's no denying that they are developing a knack for coming up big in the shootout.  Now, if only they can reverse that for postseason play, a lot of worried Penguins fans will breathe a sigh of relief.

Just to echo Paul Steigerwald's comments for a second: Poor Scott Clemmensen.  In an effort to relieve Thomas Vokoun - who allegedly had to escape to the dressing room to relieve himself - Clemmer ultimately earned a strike in the loss department after facing only four shots.

Trust me though, my sympathy only goes so far, and frankly it's more of a desire to see Vokoun take the 'L' in regulation than anything else.

But let's focus on the uplifting end of things.  The Pens tallied another two points in what stands as the team's fourth straight shootout win.  This is obviously not the sort of thing you want to see a team make a habit of in the latter part of the season, but if this is what it's gong to take for Pittsburgh to pick up two points, then so be it.  They have the Mustache Boy contest for a reason, other than to simply makes us all shutter in disgust at the failed mustache attempts from a number of guys on the team.  The evidence would suggest it's working to, as the Pens are now 10-3 in the shootout this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury is just playing lights-out hockey at this point.  If you think back to the past three games, the goals he allowed are the sort of goals that would beat 95% of goaltenders in the league.  The regulation goal against the Flyers was a bit flukey; a bouncing puck that skipped into the net.  He was literally perfect Friday against the Devils and then on Sunday against the Panthers the redirect may have very well bounced off of two or more players.  You can't fault him for that, especially since he proceeded to stop 37 of Florida's 38.

Also have to give a shout out to Ben Lovejoy for his overall excellent game.  Obviously registering a goal only helps the cause, but he also showed some great hustle on the defensive end, let some offensive rushes and had a pretty solid forecheck that worked to his advantage when someone else backed up to cover for him on D.  Just a great game from a guy who has scored 66.6% ( \m/ ) of his career goals against the Panthers (that sounds much more flattering than saying two of three).

Philly comes to town Tuesday night for the final meeting of the regular season.  Depending on how things situate between now and then, Pittsburgh could be in a good spot to potentially take the lead in the Eastern Conference.  Rule nothing out.

Still no word on Dustin Jeffrey, but at least I didn't have to mention a Max Talbot injury either.  For those not watching, Max took a weird crash into the boards early in the game but managed to come back in time to flub a great scoring chance.  In other words, nothing changed.

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