Fleury never wilts in Penguins' win over Devils

Marc-Andre Fleury might have whistled a couple of tunes. Tightened his laces. Groomed his crease.

There was a lot of time for the Penguins goaltender to kill early in a game Friday night against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center.

"I was a little lonely back there," Fleury said after the Penguins hung on for a 3-2 win, their seventh home victory in a row.

Business picked up for Fleury after a first period in which his teammates staked him to a 3-0 lead.

And how.

Fleury, who notched his league-leading 18th win, stopped the seven shots he faced in the first period, then stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced over the final two periods, a few of them stellar saves.

"Our goaltender was the best player on the ice by far," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said. "He made huge saves for us. That's the only way we got a win."

It was a maneuver by Kunitz that got the Penguins into a scoring mode early.

Approaching the blue line on the opening shift, he chipped the puck past Devils defensemen Andy Greene and Mark Fayne -- and right on goaltender Cory Schneider.

Schneider bobbled the puck, allowing Kunitz to race in and take a poke at it before Pascal Dupuis swept in and punched the puck over the goal line for a 1-0 Penguins lead 41 seconds into the first period.

"Obviously, it's an inexcusable goal," Schneider said. "That can't happen at this level. It's not fair to my teammates to put them down like that 40 seconds into the game."

Sidney Crosby got the other assist, pushing his NHL-leading total to 44 points. It gave him at least one point in each of the Penguins' past 11 home games.

It was the fastest goal given up by New Jersey this season, and the fastest scored by the Penguins.

"I just wanted to try and bounce one in on him," Kunitz said of Schneider. "The first one of the day, you never know how it's going to go."

At 7:55 of the first period, after a mid-ice turnover by the Devils, Brandon Sutter, from the right half-wall, set up Chris Conner alone in front of Schneider, and Conner's forehand shot sailed past the goalie's blocker for a 2-0 Penguins lead.

Jayson Megna got a rebound of a shot by Simon Despres and put it in off of the right post to push the Penguins' advantage to 3-0 at 14:40 of the first period.

"We started the game at 7:45 p.m. instead of 7 o'clock tonight," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "You can't do that against any team, never mind Pittsburgh."

The three goals were the most the Penguins have scored in a first period this season, and they came on their first nine shots.

"Anytime you jump on a team early, there's a lot of time left for them to regroup," Kunitz said. "They did a great job coming out in the second. We took our foot off of the gas, and they hammered us in [our end]. They were in there the whole time."

Patrik Elias deftly tipped a shot by Anton Volchenkov up and over Fleury to pull the Devils to within 3-1 at 3:24 of the second period.

Just 56 seconds later, a shot from the left boards by Jaromir Jagr went off of the skate of Megna in front of the net, then off Dainius Zubrus. It trickled over the goal line before Fleury could get it. That pulled the Devils to within 3-2.

"It's a good thing we had that cushion," Dupuis said.

And Fleury.

"After that point, they dominated the shots, they dominated the opportunities and they certainly had some very good, Grade-A opportunities that we gave up," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Marc-Andre had to make a handful of excellent saves."

In particular, he put his stick along the ice and channeled a rebound shot by Steve Bernier back out into the slot, and he made a glove save on a breakaway by Damien Brunner.

"The second two periods, we were creating chances for them off of things we were doing," Conner said.

What started off looking as if it might be one of Fleury's easier nights didn't end up that way as New Jersey not only feasted on some Penguins puck mismanagement but also played offense with a level of zeal not usually attributed to the defensive-minded Devils.

"We're used to seeing them play pretty tight, pretty patient, very shut-down," Fleury said. "It was different to have them forechecking and playing offense."

New Jersey ranked last in the NHL before Friday with an average of 25.2 shots a game. The Devils reached 26 through two periods and finished with 39. They attempted 83, with 17 missing the net and 27 blocked by the Penguins. The Penguins had ranked ninth with 31.6 shots a game but had only 23.

"We know it's a looong, 60-minute game," Kunitz said. "Teams have come back on us. We've come back on other teams. "They took it to us, and we hung on for the win."


Thornton ruling today

Boston Bruins winger Shawn Thornton had an in-person hearing Friday with the NHL's department of player safety related to his actions in a game a week ago that left Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with a concussion. According to that league department's Twitter account, the length of Thornton's suspension will be announced today.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

First Published December 13, 2013 9:31 PM

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