DENVER, Colorado – No Sidney Crosby. No Evegeni Malkin. Half the lineup injured. No problem for the Penguins.
The Penguins used a pair of goals by Brandon Sutter and some spectacular goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury to pull out a 3-2 shootout victory against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday night at Pepsi Center.
The Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second period, both from Sutter. The Avalanche scored two in the third period to tie the game and force an extra session.
Fleury stopped all three Avalanche shootout shooters and Jussi Jokinen connected on his attempt to lift Pittsburgh to the win.
“It was a good challenge,” Fleury said. “I knew I would face more shots than usual. It was fun. Everybody working to it and we got the win, so it was nice.”
Fleury finished with 39 saves in the game, and was the pivotal performer in his team’s victory.
“(Fleury) was outstanding,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Second half of the first period they really took it to us with a couple power-play chances and a couple flurries. Marc-Andre had to be huge. There were some point-blankers he had to come up big on.
“If he wasn’t, he should be the first star tonight.”
For the record, he was the first star.
For his part, Jokinen was happy that his 0 for 6 drought in the shootouts this season came to an end.
“It felt good,” Jokinen said. “I haven’t been that good this year. … It helped my confidence to get that goal. It was fun to get that one.”
The win was the 50h of the season for the Penguins. The 50 wins is the third-most in franchise history for one season (1992-93, 56 wins; 2011-12, 51). The team’s 105 points ties for the fourth-most in team history.
In the absence of the Penguins’ top-two centers, their third center, Sutter, stepped up.
“(Sutter) was matched up with really good players and he and his line took that to heart,” Bylsma said. “He stepped up big on his five-on-five goal, but also with the opportunity on the power play as well.”
Sutter was happy to get on the board.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Sutter said. “It’s always nice to get on the power play and contribute there.”
Sutter scored his first of the game early in the second period. Skating down the far side he saw an opening blocker side on goalie Semyon Varlamov and sniped it past him.
Sutter tallied his second goal of the game, and 13th of the season, with the Penguins on the power play. Sutter was planted in the slot when Jussi Jokinen fed him the puck. Sutter just angled his blade and let the puck glance off it and through Varlamov’s body.
The Penguins recalled forward Adam Payerl from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and he made his NHL debut against the Avalanche.
Payerl, 23, has played in 38 games with WBS, posting three goals and nine points. Last season the 6-foot-3, 218-pound forward posted 10 points (3G-7A) in 44 games.
Payerl, who signed with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent, skated 9:33 minutes, had three shots, four hits and two penalty minutes.
“It was an awesome experience,” Payerl said. “It was great to be out there. It was a great game going both ways. … I’ve been working all season to get here and it’s good to finally be here.
The Penguins were well undermanned against the Avalanche. Pittsburgh was already without Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Marcel Goc (foot), Kris Letang (stroke), Malkin (foot), Olli Maatta (upper-body) and Joe Vitale (mid-body).
The team also lost captain Crosby (upper-body), Chris Kunitz (lower-body) and Brooks Orpik (lower-body).
The Penguins did get Jokinen back in the lineup after he missed the team’s last game with an upper-body injury.
The Penguins have suffered an NHL-most 506 man-games to injury.
Author: Sam Kasan