Fleury lifts Pens to 8th straight win
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik simply laughed at the memory of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles early last season.
Those days seem like a lifetime ago.
Fleury bailed out the Penguins' offense for the second time this homestand and led them to their eighth straight victory in a 2-1 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Friday at Consol Energy Center.
The goaltender stopped 28 of 29 shots and denied both shooters in the shootout.
Center Evgeni Malkin was held without a point for a second straight game, while right wing James Neal hasn't scored since Feb. 19. Both scored in the shootout.
"It was last year that everybody wanted to trade him," Orpik said with a smile. "Thank God (General manager) Ray (Shero) didn't listen to everybody else."
Fleury allowed the Panthers to take a 1-0 lead, when Tomas Fleischmann took advantage of a fortunate carom and shoved a rebound into an empty net.
But that was all the goaltender would allow. He stopped Fleischmann on a breakaway later in the second period and made two stellar saves late in the third period to preserve a 1-1 tie.
In the shootout, he was perfect.
"People forget how young he still is," Orpik said. "He came into the league at 18. You've seen some brilliance in the past. But he's shown so much consistency now."
The only player to score during regulation for the Penguins was left wing Steve Sullivan, who has played with dozens of goaltenders in his career.
He isn't sure he's played with anyone quite like Fleury.
"He's very high on the list of guys I've seen," Sullivan said. "Very high."
Fleury is also high on the list of victories for a goaltender in the NHL this season. The win over Florida was his 36th, which is good for second in the league. Fleury is now only four wins shy of his career high of 40.
This marked the second straight time the Penguins have won a game after trailing through two periods. Although it takes offense to make a comeback, it also takes a consistent goaltender.
"With the type of guys we have," Fleury said, "we always know we can come back and make a run for it. I just try to keep it simple, make some saves, and they got the goals."
Even the youngest Penguin has quickly learned to have confidence in his goaltender.
"We just try to make sure other teams don't get second and third cracks at him," said rookie Simon Despres, who played against Florida because defenseman Paul Martin was ill.
"We have so much confidence that he's going to stop the first one. You know he's usually going to."
The game had the feel of a contest from the 1990s, when scoring chances were down, and obstruction was up.
"Tonight there wasn't a lot of room out there," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was tough getting to the inside, almost a playoff type of room out there in terms of what was allowed and how we could get to the net."
The Penguins have scored only six goals during this homestand, yet find themselves 3-0 during that time. They return to action Sunday at home against Boston.
"We've played OK," Bylsma said. "I don't think we've played great stretches of hockey and dominated games. We didn't give them a lot, as well."
How they scored
-- Panthers, 1-0 (7:17): LW Tomas Fleischmann collected a rebound off the end boards and scored from a sharp angle near the right post.
-- Penguins, 1-1 (2:56): On a breakaway, LW Steve Sullivan flipped a backhand shot that trickled past G Jose Theodore.