By Dan Scifo
February 3, 2014
James Neal scores his 18th goal of the season in last night's 2-1 OT victory over the Senators (AP/Gene Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are continually refining their game with the playoffs approaching.
They looked ready Monday night.
Marc-Andre Fleury robbed former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson with a sparkling third-period glove save and James Neal scored at 3:05 of overtime, giving the Penguins a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators 2-1.
''I just tried to get my leg, my glove over there and try to stop it,'' Fleury said. ''I was glad it went in my glove.''
Neal netted his 18th of the season and his first goal in nine games for the Penguins, who won for the 16th time in 17 home games and are now 23-4 at Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh also avoided back-to-back regulation losses for the first time since dropping three straight in early November.
''When you don't score you sometimes try to pick corners and be a little too cute,'' Neal said. ''I was able to find one tonight. It was a good feeling.''
Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson stopped Robert Bortuzzo from the slot in overtime, but the rebound popped out to Neal, who dragged the puck around a Senators' defender before dumping a shot past an out-of-position Anderson and into an empty net.
''I was trying to be patient with the puck and wait for an opening,'' Neal said. ''I knew their D-man was going to go down and Anderson was kind of far out when (Bortuzzo) got the puck to the net.''
Ottawa's Stephane Da Costa and Pittsburgh's Brian Gibbons scored in the first period.
Ottawa's best chance to take the lead in regulation came midway through the third period, but Fleury robbed Karlsson with a dazzling glove save. Fleury, while pushing from post to post, reached high above the cross bar, snagging the fluttering wrist shot from Karlsson, who had a partially wide open net to shoot at.
''I don't know if there's a save that beats it,'' Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. ''It was going high to the right corner and he had to get up there and get it.
''It was an open cage, he pushes over, and gets the glove up to make the save. I hope we see this one over and over again.''
Karlsson might see it in his sleep. The Senators' leading scorer fell to the ice in astonishment after Fleury's stop.
''I just smiled at him,'' Karlsson said. ''There's nothing I can really say. He knows he made a good save and unfortunately I'm going to be on the highlights for quite some time with that one.''
Fleury stopped 24 shots for his league-leading 30th win of the season, while Anderson turned aside 46 shots for the hard-luck loss.
Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 75 points, was held without a point and hasn't scored a goal in five games, his longest drought since a seven-game slump earlier this season.
''He's 100 percent,'' Bylsma said. ''He was our best player on both sides of the puck and I thought he played an excellent game regardless of whether he got a point or not.''
The Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference with 80 points, went 6-3-1 their previous 10 games, looking dominant during impressive wins against Montreal and Los Angeles but struggling in losses against Edmonton, Florida, Dallas, and Phoenix, all teams out of playoff contention.
The Senators handed the Penguins arguably their worst loss of the season Dec. 23 in Ottawa, shutting them out 5-0 in a physical contest that saw Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis tear his anterior cruciate ligament on a hit from Marc Methot.
Ottawa, in the mix for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot, allowed three goals in the final 5:58 during a 6-3 loss at Toronto on Saturday, the second time in four games the Senators allowed six goals.
The improved, hardened defensive effort Monday was certainly enough to help the Senators a win but they couldn't take advantage of their opportunities.
''We played hard,'' Anderson said. ''We gave ourselves the opportunity to be there. Just unfortunate we didn't come out with two points.''
Ottawa broke through at 5:56 of the first period, Da Costa scoring his third of the season after he lifted a short-side wrist shot over Fleury's shoulder from the top of the crease.
Ottawa's Zack Smith took a boarding call 29 seconds later and the league's top power-play unit capitalized with the man advantage winding down, tying the game after Gibbons tipped Olli Maatta's shot from the point past Anderson.
That was all until Neal's goal in the overtime won it for Pittsburgh.
NOTES: Penguins D Kris Letang, who leads the team defensively with 10 goals, missed his third straight game with an undisclosed illness. ... Penguins' F Taylor Pyatt left with a lower body injury after the game's first shift. ... Pittsburgh is 14-1 at home when it registers at least one power-play goal. The Penguins' penalty kill is perfect in a season-high nine straight home games dating back to Dec. 19. ... Ottawa concludes a three-game road trip Tuesday at St. Louis, while Pittsburgh visits Buffalo on Wednesday. ... Ottawa D Chris Phillips missed his fourth straight game with a lower body injury, while Matt Kassian and Joe Corvo also sat out for the Senators. Forwards Andrew Ebbett and Jayson Megna were healthy scratches for Pittsburgh.