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Blackhawks defeat Pens 2-1 in OT

Blackhawks vs Penguins coverage - SB Nation blog Second City Hockey

Sans Sidney Crosby, the Penguins had to dig deep when they faced a Chicago Blackhawks team that used much of the skill and style that Pittsburgh's gameplan.

Much of the night featured a lot of skating, a lot of fast-paced hockey going in both directions and stellar goaltending play by Marc-Andre Fleury (29 saves on 31 shots) and Blackhawks' backup Antti Niemi (32 saves on 33 shots).  Old "friend" Marian Hossa opened the scoring when he went hard to the net, collected the puck and put it past Fleury.

The score would remain 1-0 Chicago for most of the game, neither team could solve the defenses of their opponent.  Until Dan Bylsma called a timeout with about 1:40 left and let assistant coach Mike Yeo draw a play up.  They pulled the goalie and stationed Jordan Staal all the way out against the far boards on the blueline, in an ominous lurking position.  Recent call-up Mark Letestu won the faceoff, Evgeni Malkin wheeled the puck around and threw it to the net.  Staal swooped in and beat Niemi on the second chance.

It wasn't to be for Pittsburgh on this night.  In OT, Kris Versteeg got to a loose puck in the crease before Tyler Kennedy could neutralize him and ended it.

  • Without their leading scorer, Pittsburgh struggled to generate points, but it wasn't for a lack of effort or shots.  33 shots on goal were fired at Niemi, led by Bill Guerin's 6 and Kennedy's 5.  While taking nothing away from Niemi, who was solid, a bunch of the Penguins shots were coming from low percentage angles and distances.
  • Minus Crosby (one of the top faceoff men in the league), the Penguins used nine different forwards for at least one faceoff.  Out of all of them, only one had a better than 50% night.
  • And that was Crosby's lineup replacement of Mark Letestu.  Letestu had a solid night, in addition to his clutch offensive zone faceoff win, he did win 56% of his 16 draws, he had 4 shot attempts (1 getting through, 1 hit a post) and a hit in 13:52 of ice-time.  Acquitted himself very well on this night.
  • Speaking of, it showed some stones and intuition by the coaching staff to use a guy in his 3rd career NHL game in an important faceoff against old veteran John Madden, who's made a career out of doing things like winning defensive draws.  Mike Yeo is an easy (and reasonable) punching bag for Penguins fans....But the unusual and creative play he drew up for the last moment worked exactly to perfection.  So you have to tip your cap to him tonight.
  • Chicago also earned a cap tip for their hard fought win.  They're a good young team with a lot of skill up front, but some of their defensemen shined tonight: Brent Seabrook has 9 hits and 2 blocked shots, Duncan Keith frustrated Pens all night and skated a game high 31:24.  Brian Campbell had the primary assists on both goals.
  • For teams that don't see too much of one another, unpleasantries were exchanged early and often; highlighted by Keith getting a shot on Matt Cooke that upset Cooke.  The hit was to the head, away from the play, and from behind; similiar to what just got Cooke suspended for two games.  If the league is truly serious about policing shots to the head, they need to review this tape.

So in a somewhat disappointing fashion that the Penguins claw back into the contest with time running out, just to have Versteeg unleash the dagger in OT.  First OT/shootout lose of the year as well.  Against a goalie in a little bit of a groove -- Niemi was working on 150+ minute scoreless streak -- it's a night where you have to get out taking what you can get.  It's only one point against a similiar team.