There were plenty of chanting fans clad in black and gold among the capacity crowd at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night to witness a rare appearance by the Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins didn't disappoint them while putting on a passing and skating clinic in an impressive 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche
They scored two goals in each of the first two periods to back the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury
, who finished with 35 saves for his 34th victory, second-most in the NHL this season.
The Penguins, who got goals from four players and at least one point from six others, have outscored their opponents 22-7 during a five-game winning streak. They've gone 17-4-1 since Jan. 13, own the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and pulled within eight points (89-81) of the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers.
"It's nice to see," Fleury said of his team's balanced attack. "These guys work really hard and it is nice to see everyone get some goals. The guys kept playing hard and we got some goals early on."
The defeat was the second in a row for the Avalanche, which had outscored teams 17-5 during a four-game winning streak before Thursday's 2-0 loss to Columbus. Colorado trails eighth-place Dallas by three points in the Western Conference and will play nine of its remaining 16 games on the road, including Sunday's visit to Minnesota.
The Avalanche headed to St. Paul after the game without right wing Steve Downie
, who suffered an undisclosed injury midway through the third period in an altercation with Fleury and defenseman Deryk Engelland
. When Downie responded to Fleury's slash with a shove, Engelland came to his defense and the two wound up with roughing penalties.
The only bright spot on an otherwise dismal night for the Avalanche was that defenseman Matt Hunwick
avoided another shutout by scoring at 8:58 of the third period.
"We don't see them very much, so the guys had to ask the coaches about them," said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
, who had two assists, five hits and two blocked shots in a game-high 23:03 of ice time. "We were ready for them. We were concentrating on not turning pucks over and our transition game.
"We've learned from the past couple of years if you stumble into the playoffs there's a carryover to how you play in the playoffs. There are so many good teams it's tough to turn the switch on and off, especially these last 20 games as you try to build momentum into the playoffs."
Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin
and Richard Park
scored in the second period when the Penguins built a 4-0 lead. Steve Sullivan
hit the empty net with 1:26 left in the game.
Malkin scored his 38th goal at 5:30 from the slot area after defenseman Paul Martin
passed in front, and Park exited the penalty box to score on a breakaway at 9:03 with a shot between goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere
"We need to be better," said Giguere, who faced 27 shots. "We can't give them some of the chances we got."
A little over two minutes after Park scored, Giguere gave Penguins forward Matt Cooke
a couple of shots and was assessed a roughing penalty that the Avalanche managed to kill off.
"It's probably more frustration than anything," Giguere said. "Definitely not the way I want to play the game. I have to focus on making saves and not get rattled with little things. Sometimes I'm not going to back down if a guy is in my face."
The Avalanche came out flying and took the first seven shots of the game, but the Penguins responded with goals from Arron Asham
and Engelland 82 seconds apart for a 2-0 first-period lead.
"I thought we came out with good energy," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We were skating and we had good legs. Both teams made some mistakes at the start of the game and they were opportunistic and they took advantage of a couple of our mistakes. We had some chances and we didn't capitalize on them. They get a 2-0 lead and then you're chasing."
Asham opened the scoring at 7:55 after taking a drop pass from Craig Adams
. Asham moved into the right circle as the Avalanche defense backed in and he ripped a shot that beat Giguere to the short side for his first goal since Dec. 1.
Engelland scored at 9:17 while skating unchecked into the slot. He reached out with his stick to redirect Jordan Staal
's diagonal pass from the right side over Giguere's right shoulder.
"That killed the momentum," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk
said. "We had to play catch-up hockey and that's a good team. It's tough."