The Penguins beat Colorado 2-1 in overtime last night because of two people:
*Casey DeSmith was brilliant in goal, stopping 41 shots. He was at the root of the Penguins’ problems before the All-Star break, allowing five goals or more in three of his last four starts. Even after beating Colorado, DeSmith’s record stands at a disappointing eight wins, 14 losses.
But DeSmith was heroic vs. the Avalanche, who badly outskated and outplayed the Penguins for almost the entirety of the first two periods. He was sound positionally, made himself as big as possible, controlled rebounds and fought through scrambles. DeSmith made big saves, too. Colorado freight train Nathan MacKinnon attempted 19 shots.
Can DeSmith keep playing like that? Put in this way: He hasn’t often. The sooner Tristan Jarry returns from injury, the better. But DeSmith stoned the Avs.
*Kris Letang scored his second overtime goal in four games. He now has 10 career OT goals. His 32 career points in OT are the most by a defenseman in NHL history.
That’s because Letang knows how to play three-on-three, a rare commodity on the Penguins. Letang gauges risk well, skates like the wind and plays good man-to-man defense. He’s not perfect. The Penguins are, after all, just 4-8 in games decided in OT. But Letang is their best bet.
Some NHL teams are using three forwards in overtime, and no defensemen. It makes sense. Defense is all man-to-man. There’s little positioning beyond that. You’ve got to be able to skate and do well with the puck. Letang is the only Penguins defenseman who truly fits that description. Maybe Jeff Petry, too, but maybe not.