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Fleury gives Pens an extra spark

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while Scott Clemmensen scratches his head:

Flower power -- Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled after giving up five goals during a 5-2 loss in Washington on Sunday. In his three previous games entering Wednesday, he had allowed 13 goals.

Wednesday night, though, he made 21 saves for his third shutout this season and the 14th of his career, helping the Sidney Crosby-less Pens edge the New York Islanders, 1-0, at Mellon Arena.

"I think we've been struggling against teams that are lower in the standings and it's good to get two points and everybody is happy," Fleury said.

For 40-plus minutes, the Penguins looked nothing like the team that demolished the Isles 9-2 Dec. 11. But in the end they found a way to get two much-needed points for their third win in four games. The victory also allowed the Pens to move within two points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Still, new coach Dan Bylsma is looking for more out of his club, which double-shifted Evgeni Malkin -- who had just one shot on goal -- and didn't score until Petr Sykora solved Yann Danis with 2:28 remaining in regulation.

"I don't think it was a terribly exciting game," Bylsma said. "There weren't a lot of pucks to the net until the third period. But that's the kind of recipe you play and win hockey games with -- you get into the offensive zone, stay there and grind it down and set yourself up for the third period."

Pittsburgh, which has 20 games remaining, opens a five-game road trip in Chicago on Friday night. Whether the groin injury Crosby is suffering from will be healed enough to allow No. 87 to play remains to be seen.

"As frustrating as it was not getting a goal the first two periods and the first 55 minutes or whatever it was, I thought we stayed pretty composed and kept plugging away," Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Then we found one there in the end. Their goalie played great all night."

I'm not joking … this is my job! -- Marty Biron has experienced some difficulty hanging on to the No. 1 goaltending job in Philadelphia recently. He may have gotten the edge back Wednesday night.

Biron stopped all 34 shots he faced for his 25th career shutout in a 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings at the Wachovia Center. Nonetheless, he knows he'll need to give way to Antero Niittymaki every now and then just to make sure he's fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't really know too many teams that get in the playoffs with only one guy pulling the load," Biron said after his second shutout of the season. "We both want to play every night, we both want to get in there and lead the team. Some nights, you're going to have to be supportive."

Flyers coach John Stevens seems to have a nice problem on his hands. Niittymaki made 35 saves in Philadelphia's 4-2 win Tuesday at Washington, which was followed by Biron's shutout 24 hours later.

"We've got confidence in both these guys right now, and I think we're going to use them both from now to the end of the year," Stevens said. "I think they're both going to deserve a chance to get back in the net.

"My focus right now is getting our team into the playoffs, and I think by that time somebody's going to take the lead role."

Home ice is huge -- Given how the Detroit Red Wings manhandled the San Jose Sharks in two games at Joe Louis Arena this season, there's little doubt the Wings will do everything in their power to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

They took a step toward accomplishing that Wednesday.

Henrik Zetterberg was sensational, as he scored once shorthanded and once on the power play, while Ty Conklin made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Sharks. The win pulled the Red Wings within three points of San Jose in the Western Conference standings, although the latter has two games in hand.

In the two games in Detroit this season, the Wings have outscored the Sharks 10-1.

"For sure, we want the first seed," Zetterberg said. "But it's going to be tough because they're ahead of us with 21 games left."

Of course, it's a little foolish to look so far ahead when you consider the Western Conference Finals are more than two months away. After all, the Western Conference's top-seeded teams have met just three times in the conference finals since 1999.

"We can't look that far ahead," said Conklin, who has won his last 12 starts at home.

No quick fix -- In John Tortorella's first game as coach of the New York Rangers, the only major differences were that Wade Redden scored a goal and the Blueshirts managed to lose a shootout. 

After the 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, Tortorella -- who replaced Tom Renney on Monday -- admitted that he is worried about the way his team goes about staying in shape.

"I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I'm a little concerned about the conditioning of the club," Tortorella said. "I thought we looked tired in the third period. We're going to try and play an attacking style. We need to be in shape."

They won't have much time to exercise, given the fact that the Florida Panthers will be waiting for them at Madison Square Garden upon their return. Like the Rangers, the Panthers are one of several teams in the Eastern Conference playoff mix.

"It's difficult during the season," Tortorella said of making changes to the conditioning program. "We're 60-plus games in. I expect the team to be tired, all teams are tired at this time of year. I wouldn't say the whole team -- I have some concerns about a few guys.

"It's a tough way to play. You have to be in shape."

Despite the loss, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist believes the Blueshirts are on the right track. The shootout defeat gives them 70 points.

"I think this was definitely a step in the right direction," Lundqvist said. "We looked faster and had more energy. He told us to go after them more, take more chances to get our offensive game going a little bit."

Ready to go
-- It's a sight New Jersey Devils fans have been waiting to see, that familiar No. 30 in the net, ready to go.

They'll see it Thursday night against Colorado, when Martin Brodeur returns from a biceps injury that cost him 50 games.

Brodeur has been working out for several weeks. On Wednesday, he told coach Brent Sutter he was good to go.

"We just talked briefly after practice and I just asked him how he was," Sutter said. “He said he was good, and I asked him if he was ready to play and he said yes. So I said, 'Well, then you’re playing (Thursday).' Pretty brief conversation."

While Brodeur was on the mend, the Devils rallied behind Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes to go 33-17-1 and take a four-point lead in the Atlantic Division entering Thursday's games.

Brodeur is upbeat and ready to go.

"We’ve talked about it," he said of his return. "It was a big possibility (Tuesday) and (Wednesday) we just confirmed it on the ice after practice. I had a good feeling about it. It's amazing when I turned it on and had more practice time how much better I felt. They saw it too, and just felt it was good timing. We took our time, and it was a long time coming."

"We just talked briefly after practice and I just asked him how he was.  He said he was good, and I asked him if he was ready to play and he said yes. So I said, 'Well then you’re playing [Thursday].' Pretty brief conversation." -- Devils coach Brent Sutter on Martin Brodeur
The odd man out is Clemmensen, who won 25 games in Brodeur's absence but was sent to the AHL Lowell Devils when the future Hall of Famer was activated Wednesday.

Clemmensen was 25-13-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 40 appearances. He could return after next week's trading deadline.

"I had a long conversation with Scotty," GM Lou Lamoriello said, noting that Clemmensen didn't have to pass through waivers because he had been recalled under emergency conditions. "He certainly understands. In saying that, the job that he did was incredible while he was here. He knows and we know what he's capable of doing, and he's certainly made a lot of people aware of what he can do."

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

Contact Brian Compton at
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