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Fleury, third line power Penguins past Canadiens

by Sean Farrell

MONTREAL -- Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins took the measure of the Montreal Canadiens and liked the results after their showdown at the summit of the Eastern Conference standings Tuesday.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves for his fourth shutout in nine games, Beau Bennett had a goal and two assists, and Pittsburgh ended Montreal's six-game winning streak with a 4-0 victory at Bell Centre.

Steve Downie had a goal and an assist, and Brandon Sutter and Crosby scored for the Penguins, who have won 10 of 11, including three in a row.

Pittsburgh leads the Metropolitan Division at 13-3-1 (27 points).

"We really wanted to challenge our guys coming into this game because we knew how good Montreal was with their transition game and I felt we had to be really good defensively," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "We had to be great on the backcheck, be above on our forecheck, and I thought we were good from start to finish [Tuesday].

"I thought we played a really comfortable game defensively and then we took our chances when we had them. We didn't force anything but our transition game was good, our down-low play was good, and then our power play converted, so putting them back on their heels early in the game was important."

Carey Price made 18 saves for Montreal (14-5-1), which entered with the best record in the NHL.

"We did some good things, no doubt about that," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We made some huge mistakes, turned the puck over on the first goal, bad coverage on the second goal. ... It reminds you that you have to be humble. And we still have a lot of work in front of us if we want to compare ourselves with big teams like that."

Fleury got his 32nd NHL shutout and his 299th win. He is 8-1-0 with a 1.53 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in his past nine games.

"[The Canadiens] had a good start to the game," said Fleury, whose shutout was his first in 30 games against Montreal. "They came pretty strong, but nobody panicked and we stayed patient in our game plan and we got some big goals from the guys. At the end, they still came, but I thought we kept them on the outside and did a great job by not giving them too much."

Bennett, whose three points are a career high, scored unassisted at 7:46 of the first period. He assisted on Steve Downie's third goal of the season at 9:43, and helped increase Pittsburgh's lead to 3-0 when he set up Brandon Sutter's fifth goal of the season 58 seconds into the second period.

The Penguins' third line combined for six points.

"It was fun," Bennett said. "Our line's starting to get more chemistry back from the preseason and tonight was a big step in the right direction and we've just got to take that into Friday and Saturday and try to come out plus or even every game."

Crosby scored his first goal in nine games on the Penguins' first power play with 30.4 seconds left in the second period. The Pittsburgh captain appreciated the third line's performance.

"You're not going to win consistently without that," Crosby said. "There's no kind of hiding from that. You need everyone to contribute to play the right way and we've gotten that all year so that's a huge part of having success in the regular season and the playoffs."

Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta returned to the lineup two weeks after having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland.

"Now I'm back. I can start focusing on hockey, just playing," Maatta said. "I don't have to worry about the cancer or anything."

Maatta blocked two shots and finished plus-1 in 20:14 of ice time.

"He was as solid as he always is," Johnston said. "He's such a reliable, dependable player, and really when he goes back for pucks in our own zone, we don't spend a lot of time in our zone when he's going back for pucks. He's a great outlet passer, plus he's a pretty good skater that can evade checks."

Bennett had zero points in his previous three games since he was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Nov. 11. He intercepted Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu's pass in Montreal's zone and snapped a wrist shot past Price into the top right corner to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

"We were just in a neutral zone forecheck, just kind of waiting for [Beaulieu] to go D-to-D, and he chose to pass to his forward coming through the middle and the forward just let it go through his legs," Bennett said. "So luckily I was in the right spot there and it was kind of a gift to go in on a mini breakaway there."

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang faked a shot before passing to Downie, who shot into an open left side of the net to make it 2-0.

Downie got an assist on Pittsburgh's third goal when Bennett passed back to Sutter, who was unmarked coming into the slot and shot past Price.

Crosby scored his eighth goal of the season, and first since Oct. 28, after Evgeni Malkin kicked the puck to him on a scramble in front of the net for a tap in from the right side.

"I think in these types of games you're better off keeping it simple [rather] than trying to do too much," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said. "And I think at times we maybe we got overzealous and we tried to do too many things at their blue line instead of keeping it simple, putting the puck in the right places and grinding them down. But I felt as the game went on we started to get more and more confidence, but when you're behind the 8-ball against a team like this they lock it up pretty tight."

Fleury stuck out his right pad to deny Jiri Sekac at 1:31 of the first period after the Montreal right wing got around Pittsburgh defenseman Simon Depres and cut across the goalmouth.

Pittsburgh left wing Pascal Dupuis was ill and did not make the trip to Montreal. Blake Comeau took his spot on Crosby's line.

Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver missed the game because of an upper-body injury. Therrien said Weaver is day-to-day.

The capacity crowd of 21,287 applauded when a tribute to the late Pat Burns was shown on the video scoreboard in the first period. Burns, who coached the Canadiens from 1988-92, was inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.

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