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Letang scores in return, Penguins defeat Flames

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Life without Sidney Crosby was not easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, but they rode an early lead and a solid performance from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to a 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames at Consol Energy Center.

Fleury made 26 saves for his 16th win and has a career-best 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage this season.

Pittsburgh’s penalty kill shut down Calgary's power play on each of its five opportunities, and Fleury credited it with making it easier on him throughout the game.

"Great job by them blocking shots," Fleury said. "Keeping them to the outside and out from in front of the net. Very solid night."

The Flames (17-12-2), who lost their fourth consecutive game, registered the first six shots of the third period before Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist took a snap shot at 7:24. Pittsburgh was outshot 13-3 in the third period, but their defense kept Calgary on the outside, allowing ample time for Fleury to see and react to the shots.

Hornqvist missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury.

"I think in the third period, we needed to play more in their zone, get more guys in front of the net and go to the dirty areas," Flames forward Paul Byron said. "It looks like other teams are scoring those goals right in the paint and we're not getting enough of those."

Penguins forward Rob Klinkhammer scored with 2:47 remaining in the third period. It was his first goal since he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 5. Steve Downie fed a pass through Flames defenseman TJ Brodie to Klinkhammer, who put a wrist shot under Jonas Hiller’s blocker to put Pittsburgh up by two goals.

"It takes some time," Klinkhammer said. "One or two practices, so it’s good. It’s a step in the right direction. The more ice I get with these guys, the better it’s going to feel."

Even without Crosby, who did not play because of an undisclosed illness, the Penguins (19-6-3) dominated early, scoring a goal 48 seconds into the game.

Pittsburgh forward Blake Comeau skated through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1 with Jayson Megna. Comeau took a snap shot over Brodie, who went down to the ice in an effort to block the shot, and over Hiller’s blocker to give the Penguins the lead.

The goal was Comeau’s ninth in 27 games with Pittsburgh after scoring five goals with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, who has scored at least one point in 23 of the Penguins’ 28 games, and Robert Bortuzzo got the assists.

Defenseman Kris Letang extended Pittsburgh’s lead with a goal in his first game back from groin injury that caused him to miss five games. Simon Despres took a slap shot from the point, and Letang tipped it past Hiller to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead, 4:43 into the period.

"Kris Letang adds so much to our team," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "He jumps up into the play. He breaks out clean in our zone. … We have a nice balance to our defense group. [Rob] Scuderi’s a guy who’s a very reliable, shutdown guy. Paul Martin can play both ways, [Christian] Ehrhoff, and then you have Letang, who can jump up the ice and create."

After a slap shot from Flames defenseman Markus Granlund slipped out of Fleury’s glove, forward Johnny Gaudreau beat Comeau to the rebound and backhanded it into an empty net to pull Calgary to within 2-1 with 7:45 remaining in the first.

Calgary forward Curtis Glencross said it was difficult to respond to Pittsburgh’s two early goals.

"They put up two goals early and we're fighting our way back," he said. "It's tough. We have to be ready to go from the get go, and the other team, they came out hungry and [Comeau] made a great shot on their first goal, 40 seconds in or whatever. And got that 4-on-4 goal right after that.

"I don't think it's for lack of effort, though. It's just a matter of mistakes and we'll look at it on Sunday and get back at it again (at the Chicago Blackhawks)."

The teams were a combined 0-for-8 on the power play by the end of the second period. Pittsburgh’s power play, which was converting at a rate of 29.1 percent entering Friday, failed to score on five opportunities.

The Penguins have scored on one of their past 19 power plays. Their best chance came with 8:20 remaining when forward Nick Spaling was stopped on a tip-in and then a wrist shot seven seconds later by Hiller.

Flames defenseman Ladislav Smid left the game with an upper-body injury after being hit by Despres in the corner late in the second period.

Pittsburgh forward Zach Sill was checked into the boards in the first period and left the game after 18 seconds of time on ice.

The Flames played their second of back-to-back games after losing 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. The Penguins were playing their first game since Monday. But Calgary coach Bob Hartley would not use the lack of rest as an excuse.

"Their first goal was a bad decision on our part and it’s a game of mistakes," Hartley said. "We had warned [the players], about the speed of the Penguins and we kind of got caught by surprise. Even before all the fans were sitting down, it was already 1-zip."

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