Fleury blanks Atlanta
Jordan Staal, struggling to score goals this season, got the Penguins jump-started last night with a goal in the first period against Atlanta at Mellon Arena.
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The Penguins won't play again until Friday, and coach Michel Therrien and his staff probably are happy about that.
They'll need the extra time to find something to criticize about their team's 5-0 victory against Atlanta at Mellon Arena last night at practices and meetings this week.
Then again, even a frame-by-frame analysis of the game tape might not turn up anything more egregious than a few guys who didn't have their socks taped neatly enough.
"It looked like last year's Penguins, a little bit," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "Everything went well."
Well enough that it might have been the Penguins' finest performance of the season.
"It's up there," said center Sidney Crosby, who scored one goal and set up another. "We were solid all the way through."
The Penguins benefited from a sluggish effort by the Thrashers, who were coming off a 3-0 loss at home to New Jersey 24 hours earlier and looked at times as if they have been forced to jog here from Atlanta.
"I don't want to say it was an easy game -- no games are easy -- but I've watched them a bunch on TV, and they've played a lot better [than they did last night]," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "And we played pretty well, so it was a combination."
The Penguins (10-11-2) have won consecutive games for the first time since a three-victory run Oct. 19-23.
Their only major negative was that defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who had three assists, sat out the third period because of a sore groin he said might have resulted from getting his skate caught in a rut in the ice.
"I don't really know how bad it is," he said. "It's a good thing we have a few days off. Hopefully, it will be fine [before Dallas visits Friday]."
The Penguins spanked Atlanta despite not getting a goal or assist from center Evgeni Malkin, their No. 2 scorer. That ended Malkin's 15-game scoring streak, the longest in the NHL by a Russian.
Every Penguin who stepped onto the ice contributed something to this victory, but a few showings stood out. To wit:
• Fleury stopped 28 shots to record his second shutout of the season and ninth in the NHL.
• Gary Roberts and Tyler Kennedy had two assists each.
• Special teams, which Therrien emphasized in his pregame talk, were excellent. The power play scored on two of three chances, while the penalty-killers snuffed all three Atlanta opportunities.
Fleury did not have to play spectacularly, but responded well to the opportunity Therrien gave him just two nights after he was yanked from a game in Ottawa after allowing two goals on four shots.
"I was really happy when he told me I was back in," Fleury said.
The first period was among the Penguins' most impressive of the season, as they built a 3-0 lead. That's a significant feat for a team that manufactured an average of just 2.86 goals through its first 22 games.
Jordan Staal, who had gone 15 games without a goal, staked them to a 1-0 lead at 3:38, when he punched in a loose puck from the crease for what proved to be the winner.
"It was nice," Staal said, smiling broadly. "I just have to keep doing it."
Therrien reconfigured his power play when the Penguins got their first man-advantage -- he put Kris Letang into Ryan Whitney's spot on the left point and had Erik Christensen and Ryan Malone up front with Sidney Crosby -- and was rewarded with a goal.
Malone, positioned near the crease with his back to the net, stopped a Gonchar shot, then wheeled and threw the puck behind Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec at 11:53.
Colby Armstrong, in uniform for the third game in a row after sitting out six of eight, made it 3-0 at 15:09 by chipping in a Crosby rebound.
Crosby swelled the advantage to 4-0 on a slap shot from above the right circle at 8:59 of the second, and Whitney closed the scoring, beating Pavelec from the high slot at 5:01 of the third. By then, the only uncertainty was which Penguins would be selected as the game's three stars. Fleury, Staal and Gonchar were chosen, but perhaps a dozen other guys merited consideration.
"Right from the top to the bottom," Armstrong said, "everyone did a good job."
First Published November 25, 2007 12:00 am