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Penguins goalie Fleury again up to the task in victory over Coyotes

| Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's statistics rarely seem to please certain critics.

His teammates, however, are pretty impressed. And Fleury's numbers were pretty impressive against Phoenix on Monday.

Fleury stopped 36 of 37 shots, leading the Penguins to a 2-1 victory on a night when they were outplayed by the Coyotes at Consol Energy Center.

"He never gets the credit he deserves," said right wing Tyler Kennedy, who played for the first time in a month because of a high ankle sprain. "But that's OK. Maybe he likes it that way. We know that he's the best goalie in the league."

Fleury has played like the Penguins' best player during their past two victories.

He stopped 71 of 73 shots during the past two games, upping his win total to 35, which is one shy of the league leader, Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

Fleury was dynamic late in the game, when the Penguins were forced to kill a penalty while attempting to preserve their one-goal advantage.

In the second period, he was even better.

While the Penguins were ahead two goals, Fleury lost his stick for a 30-second span. Moments after making saves on right wing Radim Vrbata and center Boyd Gordon, Fleury found himself without his stick while the Coyotes put continual pressure on the goaltender. Fleury was up to the task, making a number of acrobatic saves.

When the sequence ended, the crowd saluted the goaltender with a standing ovation.

"He was our best player tonight," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He needed to be."

The Penguins looked sluggish early and often, a classic sign of a team that had been on a lengthy road trip. Having spent five days in Dallas and Denver - returning home in the wee hours Sunday morning - the Penguins never found their legs.

"Tough rebound," right wing Pascal Dupuis said. "But that's no excuse. Flower was just great tonight. He got the job done."

The Coyotes found themselves with three golden opportunities in the game's opening 10 minutes, but Fleury was there to make quality saves.

"We've been winning," Fleury said. "That's what matters."

In fact, the Penguins have now won six consecutive games. Fleury has started in five of those contests, and figures to get the call again when the Penguins host Toronto on Wednesday.

As long as Fleury is between the pipes, the Penguins feel confident.

"He was the main reason why we won tonight," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who scored a goal against his former team. "Flower does not get the credit he deserves. He's right there at the top in the league as far as I'm concerned."

Fleury was solid down the stretch, as the Penguins' penalty killing unit was forced to kill a late penalty taken by defenseman Matt Niskanen.

His best save of the evening, though, came in the second period when Fleury stunned center Martin Hanzal, who was on a breakaway. Fleury charged toward him and smothered the puck.

"I thought I'd surprise him," Fleury said.

Little Fleury does surprises his teammates anymore.

Scoring summary

First period

Penguins, 1-0 (11:44): D Zbynek Michalek collected a pass from C Jordan Staal and snapped a shot from atop the right faceoff circle.

Penguins, 2-0 (14:45): LW Chris Kunitz, skating strongly through the right faceoff circle, slipped a wrist shot past the blocker of G Mike Smith.

Third period

Coyotes, 2-1 (1:27): C Martin Hanzel made a quick pass from the corner to LW Ray Whitney alone in front of the net, and Whitney beat G Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot.

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