ANAHEIM, Calif. – Useful.
That’s the word goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury used when pressed to describe how it felt to play a pivotal role in what was pretty universally considered a defining moment for the Penguins.
Fleury made 29 saves, many of them coming while the Penguins were producing a shot what seemed like every 10 minutes or so in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks Friday night at Honda Center – a win that wasn’t secured until Brandon Sutter’s deciding goal in the sixth round of a shootout.
“I just tried to make the next stop, tried to keep the team in the game,” Fleury said. “I always believe that we can come back and score some goals. And they did.”
Evgeni Malkin scored a third-period power-play goal to forge a 2-2 tie in a game that shaped up as one that was going to bolster or deflate the Penguins in a big way, depending on the outcome.
There seemed to be a consensus before the game against the top team in the NHL that the Penguins would show themselves, the Ducks, the hockey world what kind of response they would have coming off of a kick-in-the-gut, 5-3 loss a night earlier at San Jose.
“I expect a response from our whole team,” coach Dan Bylsma said beforehand.
With the exception of Fleury, he got a decided team-wide response early in the game, but surely not the one he expected.
The Penguins had some problems with puck management and did not display the energy level that might be expected of a team coming off of such a disappointing game and trying to stiff-arm Boston, which has climbed to within a point of the Penguins atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Mostly, though, their offense was nearly non-existent.
Through two periods, the Penguins were outshot, 23-7, but were in a 1-1 tie thanks in large part to the strong play of Fleury. They finished overtime with 17 shots to Anaheim’s 31.
“I looked up halfway through the second,” Sutter said. “I think [our shot total] was at five or six and I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ But hey, they’re a good team. They play well defensively.”
Going into the game, in particular, Penguins center and NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby was being looked to for a response.
Crosby was minus-5 Thursday. That meant he was on the ice for each of the Sharks’ goals and not for the Penguins’ lone five-on-five goal. It was the worst plus-minus ratio of any of his 532 regular-season or 82 playoff games in the NHL.
Friday, Crosby was even in plus-minus during regulation and overtime. He got an assist on Malkin’s tying power-play goal in the third period. He was stopped by Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller on a breakaway in the first minute of overtime, his best shot to that point at directly affect the outcome and just his second shot in the game. He then beat Hiller in the shootout as the Penguins’ second shooter.
He came away satisfied, even if he wasn’t dominant.
“We did some good things in the third, and [Fleury] made some good saves throughout the game,” Crosby said. “We stayed in it, as bad as it felt at some different points in the first period. We stuck with it.
“Personally, to miss that breakaway in overtime and find a way in the shootout, it feels a lot better. It’s nice that we got that second point.”
The Penguins played without defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and winger Brian Gibbons.
Bortuzzo left in the first period of Thursday’s game because of an undisclosed injury. Bylsma described Bortuzzo’s status as “day to day right now,” but added, “It’s not more than that, hopefully.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 8, 2014 1:51 AM