Sykora, Fleury help Penguins end five-game skid

By Chris Adamski
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) — All the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins
needed to get their recently anemic offense and power play going
was a meeting with the last-place Atlanta Thrashers.

Petr Sykora scored twice, Evgeni Malkin collected three assists
and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots as the Penguins topped
the Thrashers, 3-1, on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh had lost five in a row and scored only eight goals in
their previous seven games. The Penguins also had not netted a
power-play goal in that time, going scoreless over their past 32
opportunities, but posted two tallies with the extra skater
against Atlanta, which has the league’s worst penalty-killing

“We want to build off this,” said Penguins captain Sidney
Crosby, who also scored. “We played well even in some of the
games before this, so as long as the effort’s there, I’m always
confident that execution comes with that. Hopefully, that’s a
trend that’s going to come along.”

“This was a huge win for us,” Sykora added. “Now we have to
build on it.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the third time in four games for the
Thrashers, who fell to 1-5-1 in their past seven.

“I think we played a decent game tonight, especially in the
third period,” Kovalchuk said. “We had a lot of chances to
score, but (Fleury) made some key saves.”

After 33 straight futile chances covering seven-plus games, the
Penguins’ power play finally converted.

During his team’s second opportunity of the night, Malkin made a
pass to Ryan Whitney at the right point. The defenseman found
Sykora open below the left faceoff circle with a slap pass that
was redirected past goaltender Kari Lehtonen with 2:50 remaining
in the first period for a 1-0 lead.

“I thought we were ready to play,” Penguins coach Michel
Therrien said. “We set the tone right from the start and we got
the lead, and it certainly gave us confidence.”

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It was Sykora’s 14th goal of the season and 10th on the power

Sykora added an even-strength tally with 7:17 left in the
second. Malkin won a faceoff in the left circle, went to the
net and dished the puck across the crease to Sykora, who flipped
a backhander that Lehtonen got his glove on but could not
prevent from tumbling into the net.

Pittsburgh recorded another power-play goal 2:58 later, when
Malkin’s rising slap shot from the right point was deflected in
by Crosby, who was standing in front of Lehtonen.

The goal was only Crosby’s third since November 29 and first
point in four games this month. It also was the superstar’s
first power-play tally in 25 contests.

“It was a relief,” Whitney said of getting the power play going.
“I think we were actually better in New York (while going
0-for-8 in a 4-0 loss to the Rangers on Monday), but it just
finally went in tonight.

“We hadn’t been scoring, which is disappointing and frustrating,
but we kept getting chances. If we keep going out there and
getting chances and shooting the puck a little more, we knew
we’d keep getting chances and we knew, eventually, it would come

The previous time the Penguins scored two power-play goals in a
game came on December 18, also against the Thrashers.

“They got some good guys out there, especially on the power play
when they’ve got both Crosby and Malkin, and Whitney, there,”
Lehtonen said. “They make nice plays. That’s about it, you
can’t take many penalties against this team.”

Kovalchuk scored with the man advantage with 5:40 left in the
third to spoil Fleury’s shutout bid.

“(Fleury) played great for us,” Sykora said. “When we needed
him, he shut the door. He came up huge for us.”