Penguins cruise past Flyers, 4-0, to open season

When it comes to saves ... Fleury turns 40

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Some people think Jim Balsillie overpaid when he spent about $175 million to buy the Penguins.

After watching his new team in its season-opener last night, however, Balsillie probably figures he made a pretty shrewd investment.

Maybe got a bargain.

Balsillie saw the Penguins defeat Philadelphia, 4-0, before a capacity crowd of 16,957 at Mellon Arena. The victory ended a streak of six consecutive losses in openers and erased any danger of duplicating the 0-4-5 start they had last season.

He also got a good look at the franchise's exceptional nucleus of young talent, headlined by Sidney Crosby, who scored his first goal of the season, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who turned in some of the finest work of his career while making 40 saves.

Fleury's performance was reminiscent of his play during his NHL debut three years ago, when he was brilliant during a 3-0 loss to Los Angeles.

The Penguins won despite playing without four regulars: Center Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), defensemen Brooks Orpik (hand) and Eric Cairns (knee) and winger Ronald Petrovicky (hip).

That's 20 percent of a lineup sidelined before a game had been played, but coach Michel Therrien said after the game-day skate that he accepted the large number of lost-time injuries as an occupational hazard.

"Injuries are a big factor," he said, "but we like our depth."

The Penguins will be counting on Malkin to win them a lot of games in coming seasons, but last night, he might have helped them grab the early lead by not playing.

With Malkin out because of a dislocated left shoulder, Therrien has reconfigured two lines, including a No. 3 unit that featured Jarkko Ruutu moved from the right side to the left (a spot usually filled by John LeClair) and Michel Ouellet plugged into Ruutu's spot on center Dominic Moore's right side.

Although the Flyers had an early edge in territorial play, Ouellet put the Penguins in front at 6:46 of the opening period when he beat Flyers goalie Robert Esche on an unscreened wrist shot from the top of the right circle. Ruutu picked up the only assist.

Those two engaged in a little role-reversal a few minutes later, as Ruutu punched in an Ouellet rebound from in front of the crease at 9:34. Moore received the second assist.

The Flyers, who had four of the five power plays awarded during the opening period -- including a five-on-three that lasted 34 seconds -- ran up a 12-5 edge in shots by the first intermission, but Fleury rejected them all.

He came through with several strong stops, none better than when he rejected a point-blank shot by Randy Robitaille in the middle of the period.

Therrien gave rookie center Jordan Staal, who made his NHL debut, considerable work while the Penguins were short-handed, and Staal had a chance to reward Therrien's faith in him when he had a breakaway during a Flyers power play.

But as Staal was breaking in alone on Esche, Geoff Sanderson of Philadelphia overtook him and deftly stole the puck before Staal got off a shot.

Crosby ran the Penguins' lead to 3-0 at 1:57 of the second, when he took a pass from Nils Ekman, carried the puck down the left side and beat Esche on the short side from inside the circle.

The Penguins had a chance to put the game out of reach when they got a five-on-three power play for 44 seconds a few minutes later, but were unable to generate a shot while they were up two men.

Philadelphia got its second opportunity with a two-man advantage in the middle of the period, but Fleury preserved the Penguins' lead with some exceptional stops.

He turned aside a series of pucks from close range and the slot, and came through with his finest save when he stopped Simon Gagne on a deflection from the left side of the crease.

Fleury's work had to be deflating for the Flyers, and the Penguins put the game away with a goal from an improbable source late in the period.

Defenseman Josef Melichar, who had six goals in 240 previous NHL games, took a cross-ice feed from Crosby and beat Esche from blow the left hash to make it 4-0 at 17:06.

Melichar's goal came on the Penguins' 11th shot.

Fleury nearly lost his shutout with a little more than eight minutes left in regulation, when Gagne threw a puck off the crossbar and Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher failed to corral the rebound while staring at a mostly open net.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 40 shots last night, setting the table for the Penguin's season opener shut out of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Click photo for larger image.

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Dave Molinari can be reached at .


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