Penguins: 1 shot, 3 stops, another victory
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BUFFALO -- The Penguins are going to lose one of these some day, you know.
They're now 6-0 in shootouts, including a 2-1 victory against Buffalo at HSBC Arena last night, and logic says that streak simply can't go on forever.
Of course, logic also dictates that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury can't continue to thwart every shooter he faces in shootouts, but that hasn't seemed to matter much. Not yet, anyway.
Fleury has stopped 12 of the 13 who have challenged him in 2009-10, with Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford of the Sabres the latest additions to that list.
And with the way Fleury is performing, it's easy to believe that he could be 112-for-113 before someone sneaks another puck past him.
"Guys are struggling to score on him," Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "He's just that good. It's comforting, knowing he's there."
Fleury's teammates know better than any opponent how effective he is on penalty shots, because they face him in shootout competitions at the end of practice at least once a week.
"He's tough to beat in practice," center Sidney Crosby said. "We see that. And it shows in the games."
That's a reflection not only of Fleury's positioning, athleticism and instincts, but of his attitude.
"If you do a shootout against Marc-Andre in practice, you know he's got a bit of a swagger when it comes to shootouts," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Of course, it helps knowing that there are some pretty accomplished scorers shooting for the Penguins.
"I don't worry too much," Fleury said. "I just go one guy at a time, and I know we can get some goals with the guys we have up front."
Last night, the Penguins got -- and needed -- just one, as Kris Letang beat Penguins alum Patrick Lalime with a backhander in the first round.
They don't award assists on shootout goals, but if they did, goaltending coach Gilles Meloche might have received one. He contacts the bench from the press box before each shootout to relay his observations about the opposing goalie.
The word from Meloche last night was that Lalime was moving well out of his net, and that helped Letang to determine how to attack him.
"[Meloche] told me he was coming far out, and that it was important to get a little speed," Letang said.
He executed Meloche's suggestion, and got a shootout-deciding goal to show for it.
The Penguins played most of the evening without defenseman Mark Eaton, who left the game in the second period with an unspecified injury. There was no immediate word on the nature of his problem, and Bylsma said "I don't have a real sense" of how long he might be out.
Eaton is the only defenseman among the 10 the Penguins have used this season to appear in each of the first 36 games.
Being down a defenseman for much of the game didn't seem to trouble Fleury, who stopped 31 of the 32 shots Buffalo launched at him during regulation and overtime.
His performance overshadowed some excellent work by Lalime, who made just his fifth start of the season and rejected 23 of the 24 shots he faced. He also became the first goalie to deny Crosby in six shootout attempts this season.
"He's in the league for a reason," said left winger Chris Kunitz, the only Penguin to score before the shootout. "He made a lot of good stops."
One of Lalime's best plays didn't even involve making a save, though. He poked the puck away from Jordan Staal on a shorthanded breakaway early in the third period before Staal could get off a shot.
Though the Penguins didn't get a goal while they were down a man, they didn't allow one, either. The Sabres were 0-for-8 with the extra man, including 65 seconds of a five-on-three.
The Penguins' scariest shorthanded situation was their last, as Goligoski was sent off for high-sticking at 1:43 of overtime, giving Buffalo a 4-on-3 for two minutes.
"It was good to get out of [the penalty box], that's for sure," he said.
And even better to have the outcome settled by a shootout, no matter how well Lalime was performing.
"He played well," Goligoski said. "And our goalie played unbelievable."
First Published December 20, 2009 12:00 am