Penguins sneak past Flames, 2-1
CALGARY, Alberta — One night earlier, defenseman Rob Scuderi accused his teammates of playing like the Harlem Globetrotters.
They apparently got the message.
Playing a far more responsible style, the Penguins — though far from perfect — methodically controlled much of the final game of their Western Canada swing in a 2-1 victory against the Flames.
“It was definitely better than last night, that's for sure,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “It's tough to get any worse than last night.”
The Penguins played arguably their worst game of the season the night before in Edmonton, turning the puck over at will, and ultimately felt fortunate to emerge with a point.
While the Penguins still made some mistakes against the Flames — namely nullifying another power play with a penalty and taking multiple penalties while protecting a two-goal lead — they controlled play for much of the evening and held on for the victory, finishing the road trip with a 2-0-1 record.
They now lead the Metropolitan Division by 18 points over the Capitals and Flyers.
“We played a much grittier game, a tough game,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
They did so shorthanded, as well.
Right wing Joe Vitale was unable to play because of a wrist injury, right wing Brian Gibbons left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was ejected in the third period and leveled with a match penalty for a hit on defenseman Mark Giordano.
The Penguins seemed miffed that Bortuzzo was ejected.
“A clean hit,” Bylsma said. “That's what I thought it was.”
Even Calgary coach Bob Hartley didn't seem troubled by the hit, simply explaining that “I've got more important things to watch on video than that hit.”
Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn't have a problem with the hit, which saw Bortuzzo collide with Giordano and then dramatically lift his right arm after contact had already been made.
“Live speed,” Niskanen said, “I thought it was a good, clean hit. I might be biased, but I thought it was fine.”
The penalty to Bortuzzo brought upon some adversity for the Penguins, who were in control thanks to goals from Chris Kunitz and Niskanen.
Forced to kill a five-minute penalty, the Penguins received a gift when forward Mike Cammalleri took a penalty during the power play. Still, Calgary ended its 175-minute goal drought by scoring with 8:11 remaining to pull within a goal.
The goal took place with one second still remaining on the four-on-four situation, and the Penguins still had work to do on the penalty kill. They held down the fort, silencing the Flames the remainder of the game.
“The PK was really good,” Orpik said. “It was aggressive. We didn't give them much room to set up.”
The Penguins had plenty of opportunities to break the game open.
Sidney Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer by a 13-point margin, was stoned on a breakaway, on a two-on-one and hit the post on another two-on-one.
Still, the Penguins relied on a much steadier dose of team defense to douse the Flames, who entered the game having been blanked in five of their previous seven games.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn't get the shutout, but was strong throughout the contest, stopping 27 of 28 shots for his league-leading 26th victory of the season. His best save was a diving save on center Mikael Backlund. Fleury was tangled up with another play and was forced to use his head to make the save.
“That was pretty amazing,” Bylsma said.
There was little else amazing about the victory for the Penguins. Instead, it was solid and workmanlike, which is exactly what they wanted.
“We gutted this one out,” Bylsma said.