Ducks are plucked by Pittsburgh's one-man Army

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There are a lot of ways to describe Colby Armstrong's goal at Mellon Arena last night, but this seems best:

It was absolutely Sid The Kid-like.

Fabulous.

It would have been a spectacular goal if the Penguins had been up or down, 7-1. Armstrong took a pass from linemate Gary Roberts and exploded down the left wing. Deep in Anaheim territory, he tossed the puck slowly toward the net, then beat Ducks defenseman Maxim Kondratiev around the corner. He corralled the puck and, in one motion, flicked an off-balanced wrist shot past goaltender Jonas Hiller, who was helpless to stop it.

Did I say fabulous?

But Armstrong's goal was even more beautiful because the timing of it was so superb. The starting bell to the NHL season went off for the Penguins the night before, but they still were stuck in the gate. They played miserably in a 4-1 loss to Carolina Friday night and were trailing the Ducks, 2-1, early in the second period. Another disheartening loss -- this one to a weary team that was playing its third game in four nights and, because of sports-hernia surgery to star goaltender J.S. Giguere, had to start the young Hiller, making just his second NHL appearance -- seemed likely

Armstrong made sure that didn't happen.

He woke up his team in time to get a much-needed 5-4 win.

"A beautiful goal. A big goal, too," Crosby called Armstrong's work. "He did a nice job pushing through the defense and then sticking with it. It was a lot of second effort."

"No doubt it was a huge goal," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "He gave us that lift that we needed."

You would expect that sort of goal from Crosby, who didn't get his first point of the season until late in the game last night when he had an assist on the Ryan Malone goal that turned out to be the game-winner. At least Crosby had an excuse for his relative lack of production this time; he clearly had a hard time skating after taking a wicked slapshot from Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin off his right foot in the first period.

Or you would expect the magnificence from Evgeni Malkin. He scored the Penguins' third goal, but it was a routine tap-in after a sweet pass from winger Petr Sykora just 20 seconds after Armstrong's goal.

Did I mention Army woke up the boys?

You might even expect brilliance from Sykora, the one Penguins' winger with proven scoring ability and the best of general manager Ray Shero's offseason acquisitions. Sykora made a terrific first impression on the home crowd by scoring a power-play goal, assisting on Malkin's goal, then giving the Penguins a 4-3 lead by chipping the puck over Hiller in the third period.

But Armstrong?

The man is more of a grinder, a third-line player, who was known more for his ferocious hits last season than his 12 goals.

But on this night, it says here, he was the Penguins' star even if the deserving Sykora was awarded with that official decoration.

"He made a great one-on-one play," Roberts said. "He's been doing a lot of one-on-one work in practice. Tonight it paid off."

Armstrong practically blushed when asked about the goal.

"I don't think it was anything too spectacular," he said. "I just did the old pee-wee move and tried to beat the guy with speed ...

"[Sergei] Fedorov used to do that move all the time, pushing the puck by a guy and then cutting in. That makes it hard on a defenseman."

The great Fedorov, who had 461 NHL goals coming into this season, and Armstrong? In the same sentence?

"All I'm saying is I used to watch him do it," Armstrong said, grinning. "That's the last time you'll ever hear [their names together]."

It probably won't be the last time you hear of Armstrong, though, in what the Penguins hope is going to be a special season.

Championship-caliber teams need players like him.

"They need that depth," he said.

Crosby, Malkin and Sykora aren't going to do it every night.

"Army is a very important guy on this team," said Roberts, the veteran leader. "He's an energy guy. He gives us energy every night."

Not to mention the occasional fabulous goal.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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