UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Everyone in black and gold raved about the play of Marc-Andre Fleury—everyone except for the humble Pittsburgh Penguins goalie.
Fleury sheepishly smiled every time he was asked about how he turned away the New York Islanders again and again, leading the Penguins to a 3-0 victory Tuesday night for his 20th NHL shutout.
“There was some pretty good ones,” Fleury said of his 33 saves, “but that’s just part of being a goalie. It doesn’t matter if they are simple or hard, you’ve just got to try to get out there and make the save and keep your team in the game. I know some other times they save (you).”
Pascal Dupuis, Richard Park and Jordan Staal scored for the Penguins, who won their fourth straight and sent the Islanders to their third consecutive loss after three wins in a row.
The teams will meet again Thursday in Pittsburgh.
“We were very fortunate to come out of that game with two points,” Park said of the Penguins, who had 29 shots. “We’re going to have to go home and regroup. Flower played a phenomenal game and definitely kept us in it until we found our game.”
Star centre Evgeni Malkin returned to the Penguins’ depleted lineup after missing five games because of his sore right knee, but Pittsburgh didn’t need any offence from him to win this one.
Staal sealed the victory with his sixth goal, scoring into an empty net off an assist from Dupuis, with two minutes left.
Malkin sat out seven of the previous eight games, and the Penguins hardly missed him. Pittsburgh is 7-2-2 through an NHL-high 11 games.
“His presence alone, I know for a fact, changes the game plan on the other side,” Park said. “He’s such a dominant player that even if he isn’t on the score sheet he has a very big impact. Tonight was no different.”
The Penguins were also without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion), fellow forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion) and defencemen Zbynek Michalek (broken finger) and Brian Strait (hyperextended elbow), but didn’t miss a beat.
The Islanders were the better team in the first period, but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes despite holding a 13-7 edge in shots.
Dupuis nearly got a puck past Evgeni Nabokov late in the period when his shot trickled behind the Islanders goalie, but it was swept out of harm’s way. Dupuis had another chance moments later and cashed in.
Brooks Orpik sent a lead pass that Dupuis corralled with a long reach of his stick and carried in alone on Nabokov, beating him with 2:54 left in the first.
Park, a former Islanders forward, pushed the lead to 2-0 at 21 seconds of the middle period. Arron Asham forced a turnover just inside the New York end, and Park grabbed the puck. He made a shifty move around defenceman Steve Staios and fired a shot that bounded in off Nabokov’s left shoulder.
Nabokov started for the third time in four games, and this time was backed up by Rick DiPietro, who has recovered from a concussion sustained in practice on Oct. 12 when a shot struck his mask.
New York returned home after losing both games of a Florida road trip.
Fleury shined on this night. His best moments came in the closing seconds of the first period when he turned aside in-close drives by John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau in succession.
“We’ve got to be better at some of the little things,” Tavares said. “We had a lot of chances.”
Although the Islanders trailed only 2-0 in the second period, the deficit had the feeling of being much greater. There was very little juice in the announced crowd of 10,681, who might have been looking forward to more fighting fireworks like those these teams provided last season.
It was nowhere remotely close to the record-setting mayhem from February when the clubs combined for 65 penalties, 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts in the Islanders’ lopsided victory.
“Extremely normal hockey game,” said Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma, who coached his 200th NHL game. “The Islanders played a good game. Our goaltender probably had to be the best player on the ice to keep it from being more tilted in their favour.”
NOTES: The Penguins are 20-4-2 against New York in the last 26 meetings. Fleury is 9-0-2 in that span. … The Islanders (3-4), shut out for the second time this season, have been outscored 11-3 in their skid. … There were only five penalties called, including a double high-sticking against Marty Reasoner in the third period. … Nabokov was 8-1 against the Penguins with a 1.62 goals-against average in nine previous games.