For almost 57 minutes, the Pittsburgh Penguins found nothing but frustration. They were absolutely shelling Cory Schneider with shots, but to no avail, as the New Jersey goaltender was standing on his head. And even when he was beat (once by Sidney Crosby, another time by Kris Letang) the posts stood tall and kept the puck out.
And even though the Penguins had suppressed the Devils shots, Jersey got on the board 6 minutes into the third period after Steve Bernier skated around Robert Bortuzzo, then Scott Harrington and Marc-Andre Fleury were playing some sort of centering pass (even though no Devil was there) enabling Bernier to score a wrap-around goal. All three Pens on that sequence were sloppy. As we've seen time and again, slip your guard for one second on New Jersey, and they make you pay.
Then, Peter Harrold took a high-stick penalty on Steve Downie (shocking Downie draws one, huh?) and gave the Pens one more chance. Even though they hadn't scored, Letang and Crosby were good all night. They passed it around, Crosby shot and the puck landed in reach of Chris Kunitz. Kunitz chopped it home, and for the first time in a long time, the Pens had scored a goal.
In OT the Pens would keep up the pressure, culminating in a great shift by Letang, Kunitz, Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter. Despres especially made the play happen, holding the zone with a nifty footwork play and ultimately ending up sniping a long range shot past Schneider for the well-deserved winner.
- Shots were 43-14 Penguins. Shot attempts 63-26. The Devils owe Schneider a dinner. And lunch. And another dinner. He was great and for the longest time looked unbeatable.
- But Schneider was beaten, and it came after a switch from last game. Paul Martin got taken off the top power play line, and Kunitz was put back on it. Definitely a risk to have only one defenseman and slide David Perron back to the point, but it paid off. We've been critical of the coaching decisions here lately, it's only fair to directly point out this decision that worked so well.
- An early turning point was a full 5-on-3 power play for NJD. They didn't score, courtesy of a great effort by the Pens, highlighted by Fleury and Rob Scuderi . To kill a full 2 minutes while 2 men down is always a great accomplishment in the NHL, even if the Devils don't have a ton of firepower.
- It felt like tonight was Despres' coming out show. 23:01 played, 5 shots on goal (with 5 more shot attempts) in Despres first game elevated up to be Letang's partner. Despres was active with his skating, efficient with his decisions and almost reminded me of a Matt Niskanen type when he got the puck on the point. It was simple, but effective, he was letting the shots go all night long.
- Not as effective was Harrington. Isolate his play on the goal against and it looks awful. He's now a -10 in 10 NHL games. Probably time to send the 21 year old back down to the minors for a little while, looks above his head at this level right now. After the goal, Harrington only got 2 shifts and 1:22 of ice-time in the game's final 16+ minutes.
- Bortuzzo bumbling on the Bernier drive in wasn't much better. But the Devils even got some crazy puck luck with the biscuit going off the linesman and landing in a perfect spot for Bernier. Almost willing to absolve Bortuzzo a little, even though it certainly wasn't a shining moment. I imagine if he had Christian Ehrhoff back there, that mistake would have easily been cleaned up.
- Marc-Andre Fleury only saw 14 shots, but he had to make a couple of really good saves, including one in tight on Patrik Elias. In a lot of ways, Fleury's night kind of looked like an old school Martin Brodeur game. He wasn't tested very much, but when the play did come his way, he had to be sharp to keep the puck out of the net in a low scoring game.
- It's not cool to say anything good about Maxim Lapierre, but the newcomer had six hits and won 71% of his 17 faceoffs and 2 shots on goal. Not a bad 13 minutes played.
- 2 more assists for Letang. A game high 28:51 played. It's quite the statement to say he's the best defenseman in the league, but if ANY Penguin belongs in ANY end of season award conversation right now, there's a pretty good argument it should be Letang for the Norris. He's playing a complete game defensively and creating magic with his skating and the puck on his stick.
Finally a win in New Jersey. It took overtime, but a tip of the Cap for Schneider to make the boys earn it. Check out our pals at In Lou We Trust for their take on the game. The Pens get an off-day and return to Pittsburgh for a Super Sunday matinee against Nashville.