Penguins: Skoula scores twice in win
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ATLANTA -- No one bought a ticket to this game because Martin Skoula was playing in it.
Not even if he had blood relatives in the crowd.
The 17,588 fans came to see Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on one side, Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov on the other. Jordan Staal and Zach Bogosian, too. And Marc-Andre Fleury and Evander Kane.
A lot of them likely did not realize that Skoula would be in uniform. And that assumes they knew who he is to begin with.
But it should not have taken those folks long to figure it out, however, because Skoula scored the Penguins' first and second goals in what became a 3-2 victory against Atlanta at Philips Arena last night.
The game was Skoula's 738th in the NHL, but it might have been the first in which he got more than one goal.
"I don't think I ever had two goals in one game," he said. "I might have. I'm not sure. It's nice to score like that, but it's not my main job."
Truth be told, Skoula's job description has changed dramatically in recent weeks. He was claimed on waivers from Columbus a few days before the regular season began, mostly as an insurance policy, but has been logging heavy minutes because of all the injuries on the Penguins' defense.
Losing Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Jay McKee and Alex Goligoski at various times -- often, most of them at the same time -- has transformed Skoula from a healthy scratch to a key member of their blue-line corps.
"It was a strange situation with all the injuries," Skoula said.
The Penguins count on him to be reliable and responsible, not a prolific point-producer, but there is no down side to diversifying their offense.
"When other guys on the team score goals and get points, it makes us so much more dangerous," Fleury said.
"It makes us a better team."
So do performances like the one turned in by Fleury, who stopped 31 of 33 shots. Among them were a few saves on Kovalchuk and Afinogenov where Fleury's glove was a blur even in frame-by-frame replays.
"He bailed us out tonight," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "He made so many 10-bell saves."
What made Fleury's work particularly impressive was that it came 48 hours after he was pulled from a 6-2 loss in Ottawa.
"He was really good," right winger Bill Guerin said. "That's the kind of player he is. He's one of the best rebound players I've ever seen.
"He wasn't at his best in Ottawa, but he has this great attitude that allows him to come back and perform on the very next night.
"We're lucky to have a goalie with an attitude like that."
Fleury and his teammates so frustrated Kovalchuk, who began the night with 13 goals in 12 games, that his evening was cut short at 6:52 of the third period when he provoked a fight with Matt Cooke of the Penguins after Cooke knocked him down from behind.
Kovalchuk got an instigating minor, another penalty for instigating while wearing a facemask, a fighting major and a 10-minute misconduct.
At that point, the Penguins were holding a three-goal lead -- Evgeni Malkin had scored from above the right circle at 11:46 of the second to complement the two Skoula got earlier-- and were looking at a four-minute power play against a team that had just lost its most lethal offensive talent.
"Looking up and seeing a four-minute power play for us, I was pretty happy about that," coach Dan Bylsma said.
He likely did not feel that way a few minutes later when, with the Penguins still up a man, ex-Penguin Chris Thorburn steered a Bogosian pass behind Fleury at 9:40 to trigger an Atlanta surge.
"I don't think we let up," Crosby said.
"They gained some momentum after that first one."
And parlayed it into a goal by Afinogenov with 17.5 seconds left in regulation, although Atlanta never seriously threatened to put the game into overtime.
"We played a pretty good game," Skoula said. "We got a little sloppy at the end."
Not enough to take the luster off of one of their best showings of the season, though.
"For the first 40 minutes, that was probably our best game," Bylsma said. "Even more than the first 40 minutes."
Especially for Martin Skoula.
First Published November 22, 2009 12:00 am