Fifth victory in a row caps Penguins' short road trip
Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is restrained from going after Matt Cooke, right, in the second period Saturday night in Denver. A penalty was called on Giguere for striking Cooke on the play.
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DENVER -- Unlikely heroes aren't unwelcome, especially in the stretch run of the NHL season, so the Penguins were celebrating goals by some guys not found near the top of their scoring list late Saturday night at Pepsi Center.
"These guys work hard every night, so it's nice to see them get some goals," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said after he made 35 saves in a 5-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche, the Penguins' fifth win in a row.
Fourth-line winger Arron Asham and defenseman Deryk Engelland scored in a 1:22 span of the first period, dulling a bevy of early chances by Colorado created by several Penguins turnovers.
The Penguins, fourth in the Eastern Conference with 81 points, opened a three-point lead over Philadelphia and New Jersey. They moved within eight points of the New York Rangers, who lead the East and the Atlantic Division. The Rangers have a game in hand.
The Penguins also got goals from forwards Richard Park, Steve Sullivan and, a more familiar name, Evgeni Malkin.
But it was the two goals after Colorado had built a 7-1 shots advantage that defined the game.
"We were a little sloppy in the first period," said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, whose crisp outlet pass helped set up Asham's opening goal.
"The two goals -- especially against a younger team that's not as experienced -- can be pretty deflating at times."
Orpik got the puck up to Craig Adams, whose short pass set up Asham for a blast from the right circle past Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere's glove for a 1-0 Penguins lead at 7:55 of the first period. It was Asham's third goal and first since Dec. 3.
"We've been playing together for most of the last two years and we know [each other's] game pretty well," Asham said of Adams. "He dropped it. He pushed the [defenseman] back and I leaned into it and got some good wood on it."
Just 1:22 later, Engelland worked a give-and-go with center Jordan Staal and deflected Staal's pass under the crossbar for his fourth goal and a 2-0 lead at 9:17 of the first period.
That play was set up with a nice pass ahead by Sullivan.
Two goals off of the rush for the Penguins, and Colorado never caught its breath.
"Those were big plays in the first for us," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Asham later made a play for a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight -- when he had a long bout with Avalanche winger Cody McLeod at 13:24 of the first period.
"I was trying to find [Staal] at the end" to set him up for a goal, Asham said, smiling.
By then, the Penguins were well in control.
One of the Penguins' big guns got involved when Malkin swatted a rebound behind Giguere to make it 3-0 at 5:30 of the second period.
That pushed Malkin back into a tie for the lead in the NHL scoring race with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who had two goals earlier in the night for Tampa Bay. They have 80 points apiece.
The Penguins increased their lead to 4-0 at 9:03 of the second period just after a Colorado power play. Avalanche point man Erik Johnson couldn't keep Orpik's clearing whack in, and Richard Park dashed out of the penalty box for a breakaway. Park wristed the puck between Giguere's pads.
Frustration bubbled over at 11:28 of the second period when Giguere clothes-lined Matt Cooke, then, when Cooke protested, went after the Penguins winger, prompting a scrum and giving the Penguins a power play.
Seeing the opposing goaltender involved in such a way, Fleury started to head down the ice.
"I don't like to see goalies going after my guys. I kind of feel responsible for them," Fleury said. "We had a power play [coming up] and were still doing good. The coaches told me to go back, so I went back to my crease."
Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick broke up Fleury's shutout at 8:58 of the third period when he backhanded in a rebound to make it 4-1, and -- after Colorado somewhat curiously pulled Giguere with more than three minutes left in regulation, Sullivan closed the scoring with an empty-net goal at 18:24.
"It's tough to play catch-up in this league against any team, but especially against this team," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said.
First Published March 4, 2012 12:12 am