BUFFALO -- Marc-Andre Fleury was supposed to have Wednesday night off.
After all, he'd played the previous six games and his goaltending partner, Brent Johnson, already had missed a start Monday in Florida because of illness.
Johnson still wasn't completely healthy, though, so Fleury was called upon again.
And he responded with his finest work of the season in a 1-0 victory against Buffalo at HSBC Arena.
Fleury didn't just stop all 30 shots he faced, and he didn't simply record his first shutout in 25 games.
- Game: Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, Consol Energy Center.
- When: 1 p.m. Friday.
- TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
What he really did was to put an exclamation point at the end of any remaining trace of his early season struggles. Former Penguins coach and general manager Eddie Johnston probably wasn't exaggerating when he suggested that the game could have gone on all night and the Sabres wouldn't have scored.
Not because of any lack of effort by Buffalo, but because Fleury was so sound and so sharp.
"He's the good old [Fleury] that we know," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. "He's feeling great. He's got his mojo back."
The victory stretched the Penguins' current surge to 6-0-1 and raised their record to 13-8-2. It also pushed Fleury above .500 for the first time this season (7-6-1).
"It felt nice to get a win," he said, "and especially a shutout."
Particularly when the game wasn't the defensive struggle the final score indicates.
"There were some chances going both ways that could have made goals," Bylsma said. "It ends up being a 1-0 game, but it felt a lot more like a 4-3 game."
Dupuis joked that "it's about time he does something for us," but the reality is that the Penguins had a few defensive lapses that they'll want to exorcise from their game.
"We made [Fleury] work tonight," center Sidney Crosby said. "Obviously, we made a few mistakes."
Dupuis got the only goal of the game at 15:04 of the opening period, thanks to a nice effort by Crosby, who stole the puck from Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera in the right corner of the Buffalo end.
"He kind of got jammed up on the wall, so I just tried to poke it," Crosby said. "[Dupuis] was wide-open. ... He was coming right down the middle."
Bylsma said, "I think the goalie anticipated Crosby having to take more time to make a play, but he fed it out real quickly."
Accurately, too, because the puck ended up on Dupuis' blade, and he stuck a shot under the crossbar behind goalie Jhonas Enroth for his sixth of the season.
"I didn't know if he was going to [pass] it, or try to bring it to the net himself," Dupuis said. "Obviously, he made the right play. He always does."
Crosby's assist stretched his scoring streak to 10 games, one shy of the longest in the NHL this season.
Enroth, who made 28 saves, played because Ryan Miller, the Sabres' world-class goaltender, has a groin injury.
Part of the reason the Penguins got only one goal is that their power play, after a brief spasm of competence early in their 3-2 victory Monday at Florida, reverted to form against the Sabres. Which is to say it was about as menacing as a heavily sedated kitten during most of its four opportunities.
Fortunately for the Penguins, their penalty-killing was as efficient as usual, too, snuffing all three chances Buffalo had with the extra man.
"The penalty-kill again was big," Crosby said.
Fleury was their best penalty-killer and, at least in this game, their finest player.
The Sabres tested him a minute into the game, when he had to deny Colin Stuart after he swatted a rebound out of the air. Early in the second, he rejected a two-shot flurry by Patrick Kaleta and Tyler Ennis, and he rejected Tyler Myers on a backdoor attempt on a Buffalo power play.
And he made them all look easy.
"In each period, he was forced to make some tough ones," Crosby said. "And he did."
Defenseman Kris Letang said that "right now, he's on top of his game," and that's hard to argue. Even for Fleury, who understands that good streaks, like bad, can't last forever.
"I'm going to lose again [sometime]," Fleury said. "It's going to happen. But up in the head, this feels good.
"I feel more relaxed. I'm having more fun playing, practicing. Everything is back to normal, I guess."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published November 25, 2010 5:00 AM