Fleury nets 1st shutout of season; Malkin returns to Penguins lineup


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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Penguins probably did not need Evgeni Malkin in this game.

Not when Marc-Andre Fleury continued to play like he could stop a twice-deflected flea in a wind tunnel. With his eyes soldered shut, at that.

But, after having Malkin sit out the previous five games, and seven of the previous eight, because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, the Penguins undoubtedly were happy to have him be a part of their 3-0 victory Tuesday night against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

Especially when, despite being held without a point, Malkin looked like the impact player the Penguins (7-2-2) will need him to be.

"I thought he looked strong," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Probably toward the end, his conditioning, maybe not having skated a ton lately, wasn't up there, but I think he was fine.

"He's a bull on the ice, and you could see it at different times, both defensively and offensively."

Malkin's personal linescore: 19 minutes, 19 seconds of ice time, three shots, three giveaways, three takeaways, 2-7 on faceoffs.

Malkin put ice on the knee after the game and suggested he plans to be in the lineup again at 7:08 p.m. Thursday when the Islanders visit Consol Energy Center.

"Now, it feels pretty good," Malkin said. "I'm ready to play in the next game."

Even with Malkin back, the Penguins hardly had their full complement of players. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy, both of whom have concussions, and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (broken finger), were scratched.

That really did not matter much, though, because Fleury single-handedly made up for just about anything the Penguins were lacking. Kind of like he has done for much of this season.

He turned aside all 33 pucks the Islanders sent at him, including a number of redirections and close-range opportunities, to record his 20th career shutout and first since March 25.

"There were a few that came pretty close [to going in]," Fleury said. "I think there was a post, also."

Getting some help from a goalpost never hurts, of course, but Fleury has made a habit of rejecting just about everything launched in his direction.

Had he failed to stop, say, a Kyle Okposo deflection at 6:42 of the opening period or a P.A. Parenteau shot from the slot at the end of a flurry with about 40 seconds to go before the first intermission, the course of the game could have been altered radically.

"Marc-Andre made some huge saves at different times," Bylsma said. "Ones you thought might be going in and he found a way to keep them out of there.

"At any given time in that game, it could have turned because of that."

Good thing for Fleury's teammates that he was on top of his game because a number of them were not.

The Penguins played particularly loose in the first 20 minutes, giving New York numerous opportunities to grab an early lead.

"We gave up some really good scoring chances," Richard Park said.

The only goal in that period, however, came from Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis at 17:06 after he pulled in a long lead pass from defenseman Brooks Orpik and broke in alone on New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov before beating him on the stick side for his third.

Park, an Islanders alum, made it 2-0 21 seconds into the second, as he faked New York defenseman Steve Staois off his skates in the left circle, then threw a shot from above the hash mark that glanced off Nabokov's arm and into the net.

Jordan Staal closed out the scoring with an empty-netter with two minutes left in regulation, his sixth goal this season.

Any doubt about the outcome had been removed long before that, however, because it was pretty clear that the Islanders were not likely to get one goal, let alone two or more.

"Obviously, we needed a better effort than we had tonight," Staal said. "But, when our team does that, it's always nice to know that we can fall back on [Fleury] to help us out."

They likely can count on getting that kind of boost from Malkin, too.

His line, which featured James Neal and Steve Sullivan on the wings, did not have a point, but created more than a little offense.

"The way he skates with the puck up ice opens up so much," Neal said.

A lot like how the way Fleury is stopping pucks now shuts down so many things.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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