PITTSBURGH – The offensively dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins are also using their defence to get off to a fast start to the season.
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar had a goal and an assist, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves, and the Penguins had 19 blocked shots in a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. Defenceman Jay McKee had seven of those blocks, raising his NHL-best total to 28.
“Marc-Andre’s been our best player every night, but we’re all out there frustrating the other team,” McKee said. “There are a lot of things clicking for us right now, especially defensively.”
Pittsburgh is 7-1, the franchise’s second-best start. The best was 7-0-1 in 1995, and another 7-1 start came in 1986. The Penguins’ 2.25 goals-against average is sixth-best in the league.
“When you look at the efforts that are coming from different areas and different positions, every night we win as a team,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
“We have high expectations here, and we have a lot of confidence as a team,” captain Sidney Crosby added. “When you have those things, you don’t need to be perfect or to do everything exactly right. You just find ways to win.”
Crosby finished with two assists.
Tampa Bay remained winless on the road at 0-2-1, including a 7-1 loss Thursday in Ottawa.
Afterward, Lightning general manager Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet were talking to the players for more than five minutes behind closed doors of the visitors’ locker-room.
Tocchet sounded most displeased by Pittsburgh’s 19-11 edge in blocked shots.
“Pittsburgh, if you watch them, they blocked a ton of shots, and we didn’t block any,” Tocchet said. “We seemed light on our sticks. There are certain guys the past three, four games who are losing battles because they’re light on their sticks, and we’re going to have to get back to basics here, quickly.”
Tocchet was asked if management is considering personnel changes.
“Yeah, I’m sure there will be if these guys have something hanging over their heads,” he said. “Yeah, I think Brian will do it.”
Veteran Lightning forward Martin St. Louis declined to discuss what Lawton and Tocchet said to the players but said he was dissatisfied with the Lightning’s effort.
“This is a tough team to play,” St. Louis said of the Penguins. “They won the Cup last year, and you’ve got to be really sharp against that team and we weren’t as sharp as we can be and, obviously, the penalties hurt.”
Bill Guerin and Gonchar gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead in the first period, with Guerin ramming Evgeni Malkin’s power-play rebound into a vacated net and Gonchar slapping an unscreened point shot past goaltender Antero Niittymaki.
Tampa Bay pulled within 2-1 early in the second period when Steven Stamkos swatted St. Louis’ rebound out of the air for a power-play goal.
But less than two minutes later, Pascal Dupuis nullified that by deflecting Gonchar’s wrist shot over Niittymaki.
“Sarge is the master of the shot from the blue line, and that’s why he’s one of the best defencemen in the league every year,” Dupuis said. “He looks over the net and waits for just the right time to let it go.”
Pittsburgh went ahead 4-1 at 11:21 of the third on Mike Rupp’s wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle. Crosby set him up with a whirling pass from behind the net.
Notes: The Penguins are 7-2 in their past nine against Tampa Bay. … Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier’s goal drought is at 14 games, counting the final seven of last season. … Since Bylsma took over as coach, the Penguins are 20-0-2 when scoring first.