Fleury shines again as Penguins shut out Islanders

| Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011

The Penguins have adopted a conservative, low-scoring style with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup.

If Marc-Andre Fleury keeps playing like this, any style will do.

The Flower continued to bloom Tuesday against the Islanders, his early-season struggles a thing of the past. Fleury stopped 29 shots while earning his 18th career shutout, and Craig Adams scored the game's only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Islanders.

The Penguins don't play again until next Tuesday because of the all-star break. Fleury's recent surge figures to stop Crosby and Malkin from rushing back into the lineup, given that the Penguins appear capable of beating anyone because of their goaltender's current play.

"He's been good all year," said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who suggested that Fleury's early slump received more attention than it deserved.

"Those first 10 games, we had a lot of new guys in the lineup. We made mistakes in front of him. He was kind of hung out to dry."

Although the Penguins played a sound defensive game, Fleury was forced to make a couple of spectacular saves. Late in the first period, he brought the crowd to its feet with a kick save against Islanders' forward Frans Nielsen.

Fleury had stopped a shot from a bad angle, but the rebound squirted to a wide open Nielsen. But Fleury was there to make an athletic save.

"We did make some mistakes," coach Dan Bylsma said. "And he was there every time. He deserved the shutout going into the All-Star Game."

Although the easy storyline is that Fleury is enhancing his game out of necessity because Crosby and Malkin are absent, the goaltender suggests otherwise. And the fact is, since early November, his play has been stellar.

"I don't try to play better because we're lacking some scoring (right now)," Fleury said. "I just try to do my job like I usually do."

At the moment, it could be argued that there isn't a better goalie in the NHL. Fleury has held the opposition to two or fewer goals in 22 of the team's past 30 games and has allowed more than three goals only once since October.

"He's as consistent right now as he's been in his whole career," Orpik said.

Given that the Penguins are adopting a more conservative style, goals have been hard to muster. Max Talbot and Arron Asham were both particularly effective offensively but were unable to break the ice, as Islanders' goalie Kevin Poulin matched Fleury through two periods.

Finally, at the 8:35 mark of the third, Adams gave the Penguins the only goal they needed. Ben Lovejoy fired a shot from the point, Asham registered a shot on the rebound, and ultimately, the puck found Adams' stick. He made no mistake, even if he had no game plan.

"It was on my stick, and I just whacked at it," Adams said.

The Penguins are 31-15-4 (66 points) and in the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference, trailing Philadelphia by five points for the Atlantic Division lead.

With Crosby and Malkin out for an undetermined time, Fleury's impressive play must continue. The Penguins are confident in their goalie.

"He's been our backbone," Bylsma said.

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