Fleury stifles Panthers
There are many reasons why the Penguins are arguably one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the second half of the season began, including good puck possession, balanced scoring from all four lines and decent special teams.
But perhaps chief among them has been the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who recorded his third shutout of the season and the fifth of his career Tuesday night in a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers.
“(Tuesday) was a great team effort, but we were completely led by (Fleury),” said defenseman Ryan Whitney, who extended his point streak to eight games. “It’s great to see him step up. He’s having such a great season and (last night) showed what he’s able to do and what he’s done for us all year.”
Fleury made 32 saves in the win, as the Penguins (24-17-8) beat the Panthers at Mellon Arena for the first time since March 5, 2002, ending an 0-6-1 streak. Going into last night, the Penguins had beaten the Panthers only once since the 2001-02 season (1-12-1).
The Penguins are 6-1-1 since the second half of the season started, with four wins in a row and 13 points out of a possible 14 in their last seven games.
“It’s a pretty good stretch,” Fleury said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had so many wins. It’s a good feeling to know that every night we have a chance to win the game.”
The Penguins even shut down Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, who had a hat trick against them three weeks earlier. The closest Jokinen came to scoring last night was when the Penguins got into penalty trouble midway through the third period and he hit the post.
Fleury hasn’t lost a game in regulation since Jan. 9 at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You can hear him on the ice, he’s always cheering,” defenseman Alain Nasreddine said of Fleury. “He’s happy when he makes a good save, he’s happy when we block a shot, always talking to us and telling us, ‘Good job.’ He’s so confident right now, and we’re so confident when he’s in the net, too.”
Michel Ouellet, who has points in seven of his last eight games, scored his 10th goal of the season with 1:49 left in the first period to give the Penguins the lead.
Then early in the second period, the Penguins’ fourth line chipped in for the second game in a row. Dominic Moore backhanded a shot past goaltender Ed Belfour from in front of the net.
Midway through the period, the Panthers got into penalty trouble, getting called three times in two minutes, and after two near misses from Sidney Crosby and Ouellet, Whitney scored at 10:46 to extend his point streak to a team-leading eight games (two goals, nine assists).
The game was the Penguins’ first at home after back-to-back road wins over the weekend. Among the 15,405 in attendance was new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who got an ovation from fans when shown on the Jumbotron in the second period.
With the win, the eighth-place Penguins increased their lead to two points over the ninth-place New York Rangers with a game in hand and pulled within two points of the sixth-place Carolina Hurricanes.
They’ll try to tie their season high of five wins in a row on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We wanted to come back from that road trip and have focus to play this game the way we did the last few on the road,” said Crosby, who had an assist. “We’ve always had confidence, we’re just showing it more consistently right now.”
Karen Price is a former freelancer.