Fleury leads surge to 6th win in row
Marc-Andre Fleury celebrates with teammates after holding the Coyotes to one goal in a 2-1 victory.
Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save Monday against Phoenix in the last minute of the third period at Consol Energy Center.
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They should be a tough group to hate, these Phoenix Coyotes.
Fact is, there's a lot to like, or at least respect, about them.
They compete all over the ice. They're resilient. They're well-coached. They overachieve.
And they might have the lowest profile of any club in the NHL, at least on this side of the continent.
- 1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins G: 36 saves
- 2. Zbynek Michalek, Penguins D: 1 goal
- 3. Mike Smith, Coyotes G: 26 saves
But the Penguins' 2-1 victory Monday night against the Coyotes was only a few minutes old when it became apparent that, if the teams had any particular affection for one another, they were willing to put it aside for a few hours.
Which, under the circumstances, was perfectly understandable.
"It's an important time," Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said. "They're fighting for their playoff lives. You have to be at your best, and sometimes being a little robust brings out the best in you."
That might be, but the Penguins (39-21-5) weren't at their best for a significant portion of the game, as evidenced by Phoenix's 37-26 advantage in shots.
The Coyotes, though, were only able to get one puck past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has reached the 35-victory mark for the fourth season in a row.
"He's the main reason we won," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said.
The victory stretched the Penguins' winning streak to six games and moved them four points ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Flyers have a game in hand.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had an assist to reclaim sole possession of first place in the NHL points race and run his scoring streak to eight games.
Right winger Tyler Kennedy returned to the lineup after sitting out 11 games because of a high ankle sprain and reported no problems after getting 14 minutes, 20 seconds of work.
"I thought [Kennedy] looked pretty good," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Had some jump in his game."
The Penguins also got a solid performance out of defenseman Brian Strait, who logged 12 minutes, 19 seconds of ice time while filling in for Deryk Engelland.
No one, however, had a better game than Fleury, who finished with 36 saves.
"He was our best player," Bylsma said. "I thought the Coyotes played a really hard and fast game against us and had a number of great opportunities."
Fleury's most spectacular stop came on a Penguins power play in the middle of the second period.
Phoenix center Martin Hanzal stole the puck from James Neal and broke in alone, only to have Fleury charge out to the left hash mark and smother the play before Hanzal could get off a shot.
"I saw he had his head down," Fleury said. "I thought I would surprise him."
Yeah, well, it worked.
"It was like a Dominik Hasek play in the old days," Michalek said.
Michalek, a Coyotes alum, gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 11:44 of the first, taking a feed from Jordan Staal and beating goalie Mike Smith from above the hash on the inner edge of the right circle.
The goal was Michalek's second of the season; Staal's assist extended his scoring streak to five games.
Chris Kunitz padded the lead three minutes and one second later, as he put a shot past Smith from above the right dot on a two-on-one break, after using Matt Niskanen as a decoy.
Both goals beat Smith on the stick side, and it seemed apparent that they were targeting that area. Michalek, though, insisted he wasn't trying to exploit a flaw in Smith's game with his puck placement.
"We have a goalie report before every game, but I don't read those because I don't get many chances to score," he said. "Even when I got the puck on my goal, to be honest, I didn't even aim. I just got the puck, put my head down and tried to put it on net. Just lucky it went in."
Their 2-0 lead held up until 1:27 of the third period, when Ray Whitney beat Fleury from directly in front of the net for the Coyotes' only goal.
The Penguins received two minor penalties after Whitney scored, but it was one assessed to Cooke shortly before Hanzal's short-handed chance that was the most peculiar of the game.
Smith was called for roughing after he tried to maul Cooke after Cooke had been knocked into his crease, but Cooke picked up a delayed minor after he had returned to the bench.
"I got the craziest explanation from the referee," he said. "He told me that he had to give Smith something. He didn't want to put them down five-on-three, so he gave me a penalty. ... I've never had that explanation before."
First Published March 6, 2012 12:00 am