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Fleury, Comeau help Penguins shut down Avalanche

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury shut out the Colorado Avalanche in a game he was expected to miss.

Fleury made 29 saves for his NHL-leading sixth shutout of the season, and Blake Comeau scored 2:24 into overtime to give the Penguins a 1-0 win against the Avalanche at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.

Rob Scuderi sent a slap shot off of Evgeni Malkin’s stick that bounced off Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard’s pad to Comeau, who shoveled the puck past Pickard for his 11th goal of the season.

"We have to be just as comfortable winning the 1-0 games just as much as winning 5-4 or 5-1," Comeau said. "It was a great job by our defense tonight. [Fleury] played fantastic and we had a little bit of sloppy play in the second for a little bit, but I thought we did a good job of creating lots of shots.

"We had some good chances and their goaltender played well tonight."

The Penguins (21-6-4) have started their three-game homestand with two wins.

Fleury, whose six shutouts are a career high, missed practice Wednesday while undergoing precautionary testing for the mumps. Goalie Thomas Greiss was expected to start in his place, but Pittsburgh announced Thursday that Fleury’s test results came back negative and he was cleared to play against Colorado. Greiss is being tested for the virus.

"It wasn’t the mumps. I felt good," Fleury said. "Everybody goes through life with a little cold here and there, so it’s not a big deal. I felt all right. The team played great in front of me, so it’s good to watch them."

Pickard was equally impressive. He made several key saves without surrendering many rebounds to allow the Avalanche to reach overtime despite being outshot 19-7 in the third period. The 22-year-old made 47 saves.

Colorado (10-13-8) earned a point in its first game of a three-game road trip.

"The first period was pretty defensive," Pickard said. "There wasn’t a whole lot going on, but the second and third [periods], I thought there was a lot going on around my net. I gave up some rebounds tonight, but our [defense] did a good job of boxing out and I saw most of their shots. But I felt good, I felt comfortable. We’ll take the point.

"We would’ve liked two, but we’ll definitely take the one."

Center Sidney Crosby’s return to the Pittsburgh lineup was less impactful. After missing three games with the mumps, Crosby centered a top line that included a few configurations.

Crosby struggled through the first two periods and didn't record a shot until 2:07 into the third. He had a chance to score the game’s first goal 39 seconds later after receiving a lob pass from Malkin that sailed over Crosby’s head. The pass sent Crosby on a breakaway, but his snap shot sailed into Pickard’s glove.

"It took probably a period just to get used to the speed," Crosby said. "The fact that you miss some time, you feel it early on, but after that you get into the game and feel more comfortable."

Crosby started the game playing between left wing Nick Spaling and right wing Patric Hornqvist. Malkin played on Crosby’s left wing several times, and forward Bryan Rust, who spent some time playing next to Malkin against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, played alongside Crosby for one shift.

The Penguins and Avalanche played a scoreless first two periods despite each team earning two power-play opportunities.

Colorado’s 26th-ranked unit failed to get anything going on its two and Pittsburgh didn't fare much better with Brad Stuart, who returned after missing 16 games because of a hamstring injury, in the penalty box for tripping Malkin.

"The players know. They know they have to generate more offense," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "And we need to be better around their net. But tonight, I thought we had too many turnovers and giveaways … We just need to learn to play those games and be better with our decision making."

Pittsburgh finished the first period with an 8-7 shot advantage and had its best scoring chance when defenseman Kris Letang took a slap shot that might have been tipped by Hornqvist before hitting the right post.

Comeau had a chance to give the Penguins the lead late in the period when he had a clear lane to shoot on Pickard from about 15 feet from the net. Comeau instead elected to pass to forward Steve Downie, who was battling with an Avalanche defenseman to the left of the Colorado net. Downie could not settle the puck and it was cleared without Pickard having to make a save.

The teams managed a higher volume of shots in the second period, but the quality of the chances seemed to fall. Each goalie was impressive in the second, and Pickard was forced to make several key saves late in the period to preserve the scoreless tie.

Pickard stopped shots from Letang, Scuderi, Scott Harrington and Hornqvist over a 1:52 span. He made 16 second-period saves, matched by Fleury’s 15 saves.

Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff did not return to the game following the first period because of undisclosed reasons. His last shift came with 35 seconds remaining in the period.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston did not provide an update on Ehrhoff’s status. He said he was impressed by Harrington, who made his NHL debut on Thursday, with the Penguins playing down one defenseman.

"When you lose a guy like Christian right away and you’re down to five [defensemen], you roughly have a 22-minute guy out of your lineup and Harrington is in his first game," Johnston said. "I thought he responded well. He’s playing against some of the League’s better players, better young players, for sure.

"He’s good defensively. He moves the puck quick. He’s a very good passer. Those are all skills that are going to make him a good defenseman at this level."

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