Fleury struggles in Penguins' loss
RALEIGH, N.C. — As injuries have depleted almost every facet of the Penguins' roster, they have relied heavily on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's brilliance. For one night, he finally looked human.
Fleury was pulled in favor of backup Brent Johnson after stopping only eight of 11 shots, and the Penguins never recovered from an early ambush, dropping their fourth straight game in a 4-1 setback at Carolina.
"The start of this game is what killed us," right wing Craig Adams said.
None of the goals Fleury allowed could be considered soft. Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged that he yanked Fleury more for the sake of sparking the team than any disenchantment with his performance.
The Penguins controlled large portions of the game but, in what has become a recent theme, simply couldn't finish.
"We started to generate a lot of chances in the second period," center Jordan Staal said. "But, obviously, we need to start scoring more goals."
General manager Ray Shero acquired Alex Kovalev from Ottawa on Thursday with the hope that he would aid the Penguins' injury-riddled forward corps. Kovalev's performance was a mixed bag, but it was evident his skill set remains supreme.
Playing on a line with Staal and another new winger, James Neal, Kovalev displayed his world-class hands and was at his best in the second period. The Penguins drew two early penalties in the period, and Kovalev was impressive on the power play, setting the table for Staal and Tyler Kennedy for terrific chances — but Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward make big saves each time.
"We saw some plays," Bylsma said. "He was pretty good on the power play. He created some opportunities there. He showed what he can bring to the line and the power play."
Playing alongside Kovalev was a new experience for Staal, who must adapt to the winger's freelance style.
"He's definitely a different player," he said. "He's very talented. It was a little different playing with him, but I definitely felt more comfortable as the game went on."
The same can't be said of Fleury — though, to be fair, the Penguins' makeshift defense was probably as much to blame. Jay Harrison gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead 1:44 into the game, and Joe Corvo's power-play goal put Carolina ahead, 2-0, at 16:43.
"The first goal was just a bad (line) change," Adams said. "They have some defensemen who are pretty active, and we just didn't execute very well."
The Penguins controlled the second period until Carolina took a 3-0 lead. Eric Staal — who later left with an upper-body injury after a Matt Niskanen hit — made a brilliant pass to a wide-open Erik Cole in the goal mouth. Cole made no mistake at 10:59, and Fleury was yanked.
"That third goal was a tough one," Adams said. "We actually played pretty well the whole second period. We were unlucky to be down two."
Later in the period, Pascal Dupuis scored for the first time since Jan. 22 for the Penguins' only goal. Jussi Jokinen put the game away by scoring on a third-period three-on-one.
Kovalev was guilty of two offensive-zone penalties. Matt Cooke and Mike Rupp also took penalties in Carolina territory. The Penguins' mental mistakes, on top of the lack of punch, were too much to overcome.
"It was a slow start, and too many penalties," Bylsma said. "It was tough to come back from."