Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head on Friday night in Winnipeg and led his team to a 3-1 victory over the Jets.
Veteran winger Craig Adams, known for his responsible defensive play and penalty killing prowess, chipped in two goals while James Neal scored his league-leading seventh power-play goal on a 5-on-3 opportunity (he's also now tied for the league lead in goals with 11).
The Penguins controlled the first period with an aggressive forecheck that got them offensive zone time. And when they were there, they did a much better job of getting pucks to the net and being in the dirty areas than they’ve done in a while.
But during the next 40 minutes, it was mostly Winnipeg. They had extended offensive zone time and their sustained pressure had the Penguins scrambling in their own end and created a lot of glorious scoring opportunities, but Fleury played sensational (especially in the second period, when he stopped 14 shots) to keep the Jets from getting a goal. Neal then converted a key 5-on-3 power play in the final period.
The Jets were whipping up incredible chances and battled valiantly until the end, with Andrew Ladd cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 with 1:35 left to play. But Fleury and his teammates managed to gut it out and come away with a solid road victory and two points.
"It wasn’t our best game, but we stuck with it and got the win," Adams said.
The words written here cannot do justice to the way Fleury played tonight with the Penguins holding a 1-0 lead for most of the evening. It’s like every puck was a beach ball no matter how much traffic was in front of him. He was lightning fast moving side-to-side, kicking his pads out to make save after save. And when a Jets player got time and space, he read all those plays correctly. Fleury finished with 26 saves and came within 1:35 minutes of setting the franchise record for shutouts (he and Tom Barrasso are tied with 22).
"Marc-Andre Fleury was extremely strong," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "There were a couple flurries, a couple times he had to come up real big. He had to make some great saves. He was really sharp. A couple glove saves in particular, he just looked real solid. Disappointing to see the one sneak in there at the end. Would have liked to see that be a zero."
"He was unbelievable," Adams said. "It was too bad we gave one up at the end there. When we were under pressure, he stood tall for us."
It was a big night for Pittsburgh’s fourth line of Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Craig Adams. Adams’ two-goal night was his first since Oct. 13, 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes – against the Atlanta Thrashers.
"If I had more nights like this, I’d make a better living," Adams joked, continuing, "No, it’s good, it’s fun. Everybody likes to score goals."
Just 3:19 into the game, they scored the first goal of the evening with some good old-fashioned elbow grease. Vitale used his speed to create a lane down the wall to the net, where he put a pass off Ondrej Pavelec’s pads to a crashing Adams. Adams doggedly whacked at the puck in the paint and put it in the back of the net for his first goal in 26 games.
Adams then iced the win for the Penguins with an empty-net goal with 28 seconds left in regulation. It says a lot about how strong he is defensively that he was on the ice with his team holding a precarious one-goal lead over a pressing Jets club. And aside from his pair of goals, what I really admired about Adams’ game tonight was the way he stood up for teammate Matt Niskanen after he was sent flying into the boards by forward James Wright. Adams didn’t like the hit and instantly dropped the gloves with Wright as a result.
Overall, this line grinded it out in the offensive zone and really used their speed and energy to win battles along the boards and get to the net.
BENNETT’S NHL DEBUT
Beau Bennett was inspired to play hockey after listening to stories from his Winnipeg-born grandmother on his father’s side. And with the way he played in his NHL debut in the city, he surely made her watching from California very proud.
What’s most notable about Bennett’s night is that he really stood out playing left wing on a line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy. You don’t want to have sky-high expectations for a wide-eyed rookie playing in his first NHL game, but the Penguins’ 2010 first-round pick was solid in the game.
"I had fun out there, first and foremost," Bennett said. "It got easier as the game went on. Lot of jitters during the anthems. That was to be expected. But when I got out there I didn’t feel nervous or anything. Just kind of let the game happen. It’s a similar system to Wilkes-Barre, so it wasn’t a big change other than the speed and size of some of the guys.
During the night, we saw Bennett’s soft hands and sneaky shot. We saw him display defensive awareness when he dropped to his knees for a big block and got the resulting clear after the Jets had a big shift in the Penguins’ zone in the second period. We even saw him play with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal at times as well as get a shift on the second power-play unit.
"I thought the blocked shot probably won over his teammates more than anything else he did in the game," Bylsma said. "It was a great blocked shot. He stuck with it and got the puck out in a second period where we desperately needed to get some guys off the ice. I know the bench was pretty excited to see Beau go down there and make the play."
"In the moment you just do it and hope nothing bad comes of it," Bennett explained. "Luckily it hit me in a good spot. It didn’t feel great, but I got the puck out of the zone and that was the key."
Overall, great start for Bennett. He finished with 11:37 of ice time, a shot on goal and two blocked shots.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo