PITTSBURGH – Marc-Andre Fleury is showing he can rebound from a poor outing.
The Pittsburgh goalie was pulled after less than 11 minutes in the team’s previous game Thursday, but the Penguins went back to him Saturday night and were rewarded with a 28-save shutout in a 5-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
“I was glad that Coach (Michel Therrien) gave me the go-ahead tonight,” Fleury said after his ninth career shutout. “It’s always disappointing when you do like I did in Ottawa, so I was just happy to be back and show what I can do.”
Jordan Staal and Colby Armstrong ended long goal droughts, Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Ryan Malone and Ryan Whitney also scored for the Penguins, who had lost six of their previous seven at home.
Fleury, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, has played erratically at times, particularly this season. Backup Dany Sabourin has played in almost half of the team’s games this season – including earning the victory in relief of Fleury in a 6-5 shootout win in Ottawa on Thursday night.
Therrien typically has stuck with a winning goalie to start the following game this season, so it was a bit of a surprise Fleury started Saturday. Fleury – still the youngest regular starting goalie in the NHL – allowed two goals on four shots Thursday.
“We wanted to give him the opportunity to bounce back,” Therrien said. “Dany was outstanding the other night, but you have to give an athlete the chance to bounce back and he certainly did tonight.”
Fleury was solid in his ninth career shutout, but did not have to make many spectacular saves to earn his second shutout of the season. Perhaps his best stop came on Todd White’s deflection 1:28 into the third period.
Sergei Gonchar had three assists, and Gary Roberts and Tyler Kennedy each added two assists for the Penguins.
Atlanta, coming off a 3-0 loss to New Jersey on Friday night, has gone 132 minutes, 12 seconds without scoring.
“We will sit down and look through both these games to try to learn from it,” interim coach Don Waddell said. “We have lost two games in a row. Obviously, we have hit a little bit of a wall here.”
Pittsburgh opened the scoring 3:38 into the contest when Staal picked up a loose puck in the slot from Roberts’ wraparound attempt and slid it past Ondrej Pavelec. Staal, who had 29 goals last season as a rookie, hadn’t scored since Oct. 20.
“This is a league where it’s a lot easier to play with a lead,” White said.
The Penguins added to it eight minutes later when Malone scored while on the power play after he collected Gonchar’s shot from the point and turned to fire it into an open net.
Crosby picked up his 21st assist of the season a little more than three minutes later when Armstrong scored off a rebound. Armstrong, a healthy scratch for several games earlier this month, hadn’t scored since the home opener Oct. 6.
“It felt pretty good for both of us to get going,” Armstrong said. “I was happy for him. I have been talking to him a lot recently. It’s definitely been tough but you could see over the past couple games Jordan definitely was starting to pick it up.”
Crosby’s power-play goal came nine minutes into the second period on a slap shot from the top of the right circle.
Whitney scored on a slap shot five minutes into the third. Kennedy, playing in his 10th career game, earned his second assist of the night on that play. He entered the contest without any assists in his career.
About the only drama from then on out was whether the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin would extend his 15-game scoring streak. Malkin had seven goals and 15 assists during that time span, which was the longest in NHL history by a Russian player, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Malkin did not have a shot and was held scoreless for only the third time this season.
“Whether it’s a loss or a win, it’s all about how you play, and I think for the most part we were playing some good hockey, and we want to continue to do that,” Crosby said. “Sometimes you’ll play good hockey and lose so it’s nice to get rewarded.”
Notes: Gonchar didn’t play in the third period because of a sore groin. … Atlanta lost two in a row for the first time since Don Waddell took over as interim coach on Oct. 17. … The Thrashers are 1-4 against Atlantic Division teams this season.