Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named the No. 1 star of the game for his work in the Penguins' 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey at Mellon Arena last night.
He deserved more, though. Two points instead of one, at the very least.
Or, even better, a written apology from his teammates for the way they performed in front of him.
"If he's not there, it would [have been] a horrible game," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "They played a way better game than we did. You get beat, one on one all over the ice, you're not going to win many games."
That's a reasonable assessment.
The Devils ran up a 49-15 advantage in shots, including a 39-7 margin after the opening period. New Jersey didn't look much like a team that had traveled after playing the previous night, while the Penguins looked a lot like a group that had played in Sweden last weekend. Then been forced to swim home.
"We didn't work," coach Michel Therrien said. "It's pretty simple."
Even so, Fleury kept his team in contention for a victory until there were 37.6 seconds left in overtime, when Zach Parise of the Devils beat him with a wrist shot from the left dot for the winner.
"Without Marc, we don't even get a point," center Sidney Crosby said.
"We didn't deserve it. It's funny how it works that way. We didn't do what it takes to win that game."
Still, Fleury seemed poised to make Miroslav Satan's power-play goal at 11:52 of the opening period -- Satan's first goal as a Penguins player -- stand up as the winner until the Devils tied it on a fluke goal at 17:31 of the third.
That's when a Patrik Elias centering pass from the left-wing boards hit the right skate of Penguins defenseman Hal Gill, who said he was "trying to play in the middle" of two Devils stationed in front of the net, and sailed behind Fleury.
"That's a tough goal to allow," Fleury said. "But it happens sometimes."
The Penguins (1-1-1) dressed seven defensemen although one of them, Darryl Sydor, played left wing alongside Mike Zigomanis and Eric Godard on the fourth line. Bill Thomas and Paul Bissonnette, wingers who usually play on that unit, were healthy scratches.
Therrien said he deployed Sydor, who presumably would have been scratched otherwise, up front "because we wanted to use him on the second unit of the power play."
Sydor said he never had played a full game on the wing since breaking into the NHL in the 1991-92 season, and clearly did not endorse, let alone request, the move. Even so, he declined to make a public issue of it.
"I'll keep my thoughts to myself and just be professional," he said.
Sydor was not on the ice when Satan swiped a loose puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur from the right side of the crease 24 seconds after the first of the Penguins' four power plays began.
The power play hardly qualified as menacing, but its showing was significantly better than last weekend, when it went 1 for 14 against the Senators.
"Obviously, it was an improvement from the last couple games," Crosby said.
There's every reason to suspect the Penguins' sluggish performance was a by-product of their trip to Europe but, to a man, they downplayed the impact of opening the season in Stockholm.
Exhibit A: Their strong work in the first 20 minutes, when they had an advantage in play much of the time, and did no worse than break even for most of the rest.
"You can start looking for excuses, but we were fine in the first period," forward Matt Cooke said. "We just got away from our game."
Kind of hard to argue with his logic when, after running up a 15-4 edge in shots in the second period, the Devils offered a 20-2 encore in the third. If not for Fleury, New Jersey's margin of victory might have been greater than Penn State's (48-7).
"He played unbelievable," Cooke said. "Made some huge saves. It's just unfortunate that we couldn't get the job done."
Or do much of anything well, for that matter.
Dave Molinari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org First Published October 12, 2008 4:00 AM