Crosby scores 19th of season, adds shootout winner as Penguins edge Hurricanes
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Sullivan wants the Pittsburgh Penguins to get comfortable playing the type of responsible hockey required to win the litany of taut, low-scoring games that likely lie ahead.
The Penguins took what they hope is a significant step in that direction on Thursday against Carolina.
Alex Nedeljkovic made 23 saves against his former team and turned away all three Carolina attempts in the shootout as the Penguins beat the Hurricanes for just the third time in 13 meetings.
“This year, last year, all the games they look very similar to that and we didn’t find a way to win them,” said Crosby, now tied for fourth in the NHL in goals. “So to kind of get over the hump and get on the winning side, I think that’s big and hopefully that’ll boost our confidence in a tight game like that.”
Teuvo Teravainen scored his 12th of the season for the Hurricanes. Kochetkov stopped 24 shots and Carolina's penalty kill turned away all five Pittsburgh opportunities with the man advantage, including one in overtime. Yet Kochetkov couldn't get his glove on Crosby's wrist shot from in close in the shootout.
Carolina now has points in each of its last six games and is drifting toward the top of the logjam in the Eastern Conference as Christmas approaches. A solid penalty kill, which has now allowed just one goal in its last 34 chances, has helped.
“I think the way we’ve been playing the last few games is a little bit more the way we want to play (overall), so that’s a good thing,” center Jack Drury said. "We just have to keep building on it.”
The Penguins are still searching for consistency, though there have been signs of late that they are settling into the more mindful approach Sullivan is trying to get them to play more frequently.
While there's more work to be done, Pittsburgh avoided hanging Nedeljkovic out to dry by taking unnecessary risks, a positive development for a team that at times can get caught focusing too much on offense.
“I thought we did a pretty decent job. We didn’t give up any sort of dangerous odd-man rushes, two-on-ones, things of that nature," Sullivan said. "I thought we had numbers back for a lot of the night.”
Pittsburgh's Rickard Rakell — stuck in a goal-less drought that reaches to April — nearly broke through with a nifty backhand in the first period that deflected off the post. Rakell set up Crosby minutes later with a beautiful spinning backhand pass that found Crosby streaking across the goal mouth. Crosby's deflection caught Kochtkov off guard and flicked into the net to give Pittsburgh the lead 8:51 into the game.
Carolina started to turn the pressure up in the middle of the second period, pinning the Penguins in their end while generating opportunities around Nedeljkovic. Tervainen finally broke through with more than a little help from Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang, who saw Tervainen's centering pass smack off his skate and into the Pittsburgh net to tie it 14:52 into the second.
The tempo finally turned up over the final period and into overtime, but the Penguins couldn't find a way to sneak a shot past Kochetkov, who got help from a post on a blast by Crosby in the waning seconds that deflected off the iron and out of harm's way.
Hurricanes: Host the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Penguins: Travel to Ottawa on Saturday.
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