Fleury returns, helps Penguins defeat Blues
ST. LOUIS — Given the way he'll add a little flourish to a glove save once in a while or trash talk a teammate whose shot he just turned away, Marc-Andre Fleury obviously has fun in practice.
He has much more fun playing games.
Starting for the first time in three weeks, Fleury made 22 saves as the Penguins beat the St. Louis Blues, 4-1, on Saturday night.
It was Fleury's first win since Jan. 8 and his first game action since a 6-3 loss Jan. 14 in Detroit. He watched the previous eight games as Matt Murray's backup.
“It's so satisfying at the end,” Fleury said. “You get to play and be on the ice with your teammates and battle through it and get a win. That's always a good feeling.”
Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who have won three in a row and seven of their last nine. They moved into a second-place tie with Columbus in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins gave up only four shots in the first period, all by St. Louis defensemen, but Crosby said that wasn't because he and his teammates were trying to allow Fleury to get his legs under him.
“Back-to-back nights, pretty intense, emotional game last night, I think you know coming in here you might not be as fresh as you want to be,” Crosby said. “You've just got to make a concerted effort to play good defensively. Obviously we want to get one for Flower, but at the same time, we just want to make sure we're solid defensively.”
Fleury was tested most strenuously in the second period, when the Blues held a 12-7 advantage in shots and the Penguins were penalized twice in the final two minutes.
He gave up nothing, keying a penalty-killing effort that shut down 34.3 seconds of two-man advantage at the end of the second period and 45 more seconds at the start of the third.
“When they did get chances, Flower, he was fantastic tonight,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “I mean, he's a world-class goaltender. We're so fortunate as a team to have two world-class goaltenders, two extremely elite goaltenders, and it shows tonight.”
At the end of the St. Louis five-on-three power play, the Penguins got breakaways as each of their guilty parties were freed from the penalty box. Cole misfired high on his attempt. Kris Letang converted his, taking a pass from Carter Rowney and beating goalie Jake Allen with a flip over the glove.
Fleury said stopping the five-on-three was particularly satisfying. It's not the kind of situation he could replicate in practice.
“We try to do something similar to it, but there's nothing like a game, the pace, the quickness, how many guys there are around the net trying to screen and get in your face. It's different,” Fleury said. “That's what makes the game so fun, though.”
Crosby had a fun night, too, increasing his career point total to 997.
His first goal came when he slid on one knee and roofed a backhand shot after linemate Chris Kunitz feathered a pass to him through the crease.
“He took a little bit off of it to give me time to get my stick free,” Crosby said. “Really good read by him.”
His assist was also highlight-reel caliber. He faked a shot from the right faceoff circle and found Justin Schultz, who had swooped all the way around the offensive zone from the right point to the bottom of the left circle, for a one-timer.
“Schultzy found a really good area there,” Crosby said. “It was a nice shift.”
Carl Hagelin took a hit to the head from Alexander Steen in the first period and did not return. Coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin's injury would be reevaluated when the team returned to Pittsburgh.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.