Penguins win, 1-0, pick up two key points

These two points look as good as any of the other 64 the Penguins have earned this season.

Count just as much as the two they got for that breathtaking comeback Nov. 11 in Detroit or the ones from their 2-1 victory against San Jose a few weeks back.

So the Penguins aren't going to get caught up in the artistic merits -- or entertainment value -- of their 1-0 victory last night against the New York Islanders at Mellon Arena.

Frankly, they don't much care that, while a few special games every season practically qualify as a work of art, this one was more like a finger-painting by a 2-year-old with no particular talent.

"We'll take the points any way we can get them right now," defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

That's understandable, since the Penguins (30-26-6) still are trying to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff field. They remain in 10th place in the East, two points behind Buffalo and Florida, which are tied for seventh.

The Penguins played without center Sidney Crosby, who has a groin injury, and defenseman Ryan Whitney, who returned to his hometown in Massachusetts because of a personal matter.

It is not known if either will return for the Penguins' game in Chicago tomorrow, the start of a five-game road trip.

"Hopefully, we can carry the way we played from tonight's game to the road games," said right winger Petr Sykora, who scored the only goal of the game.

The teams they'll be playing likely don't share that feeling. Not if they're counting on big walk-up sales, anyway.

"I don't think it was a terribly exciting game," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said.

Actually, that's putting a positive spin on it, given that, for much of the evening, the teams went at it like a pair of heavily sedated kittens. There were few scoring chances and even less urgency.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury earned his third shutout of the season by stopping 21 shots, but was named the No. 1 star of the game almost by default.

The Penguins threw 28 shots at Islanders goalie Yann Danis, including 10 in each of the final two periods, but didn't have many serious scoring chances until the final period.

"We couldn't create a lot of scoring chances, but we stayed patient," Sykora said.

Right up until 17:32, when Sergei Gonchar threw the puck toward the net from the right side and Sykora knocked it out of the air, then flipped it in from the front lip of the crease for his 23rd.

"It came right to me, and I had an open net." Sykora said.

Sykora's goal was the only one the Penguins needed to take a 4-1 lead in the season series, but the Islanders give them fits and had defeated them just nine days earlier on Long Island.

"These games are the toughest to win because we expect ourselves to win those games," Sykora said. "When you face a team like that, playing four lines, young guys playing hard-checking hockey, they don't give you a lot of stuff out there. This is one of the toughest games, just to keep your mind in the game."

The Penguins, to their credit, stuck to their game plan, which called for spending as much time as possible in the New York end, with the objective of wearing down the Islanders as the game moved along. Based on how the final period played out, it worked.

"There weren't a lot of pucks to the net until the third period, but that's the kind of recipe we can win hockey games with," Bylsma said. "Get to the offensive zone, grind them down, set yourself up for the third period. We did that. That's the kind of game you can expect from us."

The Penguins did that effectively enough that Fleury said it was "a little tough to stay focused" because of how little he was compelled to do, although he managed to come up with all the stops the Penguins required.

Fleury's greatest challenge might have been resisting the urge to catch a quick nap.

Keeping busy, however, shouldn't be a problem for Fleury over the next week and a half, which is why it was so critical for the Penguins to win last night.

"We needed those points," Fleury said. "Especially at home before going on the long road trip."

First Published February 26, 2009 5:00 AM


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