Gets a little help from unusual sources, then gets a lot of it from his teammates
November 29, 2013 11:52 PM
Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Pascal Dupuis and teammates celebrate a goal by Chris Kunitz in the first period Friday against the Lightning in Tampa, Fla.
Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Lightning center Tyler Johnson battles with Kris Letang for the puck Friday in Tampa, Fla.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla. -- After getting pulled for the first time this season in the previous game, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had help from many people in bouncing back.
"Lots of assistance," Fleury said Friday after making 21 saves for his third shutout this season and 26th of his career in a 3-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
There was former Penguins rugged winger Andre Roy, who bumped into Fleury the night before the game.
"He was in town, and he made me laugh a lot," Fleury said. "Good time."
There was former Penguins goaltender Les Binkley, 79, who was at the arena and talked to Fleury a couple of hours before the game.
"Very nice man," Fleury said. "He had some old pictures. It was nice to see how it was back in the day.
"He just told me to forget about the last [game] and go play this one hard and try my best."
Finally, there were Fleury's teammates. Rather than words, they supported him with a much better game.
Wednesday, the Penguins blundered their way through the first half or more of a game against Toronto -- with Fleury pulled in the first minute of the second period after giving up three goals on 11 shots -- before they tightened up and came from behind for a 6-5 shootout win.
"You can't really blame him for Wednesday," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. "We didn't help him much. I'm sure he wanted to come in and bounce back. But, really, a big part [of the previous game] was us and the way we played in front of him. It shows what kind of player he is and his mental strength. He was our best player [Friday] and a big reason we won."
Crosby assisted on all three Penguins goals against Tampa Bay -- a first-period lofted shot by teammate Chris Kunitz, a third-period power-play goal by Brandon Sutter and an empty-net goal by Kunitz with 1:43 remaining in regulation -- to eclipse 700 career points. Crosby's three points ran his league-leading point total to 36 in 27 games.
The Penguins took over second place in the Eastern Conference with 35 points, one behind Boston. They had been tied with the Lightning entering the game.
They also maintained a seven-point lead over Washington atop the Metropolitan Division.
It's not often a team is as concerned coming off a win as the Penguins were after their performance against Toronto, although they found some redemption in not allowing a Maple Leafs shot through the third period and overtime.
"The Toronto game is tough to look at in a lot of aspects, but, for 25 minutes, we didn't give up a shot," coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins were much more consistent against the Lightning, particularly in puck management.
"A lot different [than last game]," Sutter said. "We did a much better job of limiting turnovers. We did a much better job of coming out of our zone. It didn't seem like we gave them a whole lot in the middle of the ice. Kept them to the outside. Definitely much better first half of the game than we had last game."
With defenseman Paul Martin out of the lineup because of a broken leg, the Penguins are using reconfigured defensive pairings -- Brooks Orpik, who had been part of a veteran shutdown duo with Martin, skated with Deryk Engelland; Kris Letang skated with rookie Olli Maatta, and Matt Niskanen with recent call-up Simon Despres.
The stark difference in the performance against Toronto and Tampa Bay led to a cathartic mea culpa from Orpik after he and fellow defenseman Kris Letang had a series of gaffes against Toronto.
"Let's just be honest -- I think myself and Kris just have to be better," Orpik said. "Especially with [Martin] out, we've got more responsibility than we [do] normally. Especially with all these young guys here. It's understandable if those guys are making mistakes, but not so much if it's me and [Letang], some of the veteran guys. I talked to him after last game. I think we both knew we had to be better, clean that up.
"When you go through a rough patch, you try to respond as well as you can. I thought everyone had a pretty good game [Friday]."
Fleury was among those who noticed.
"The guys did a great job in front helping me out," Fleury said. "It was a good team win."
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.
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