Monday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres wasn’t the most exciting hockey the Penguins have played, but it was certainly a much better defensive effort than the ones they’d been producing as of late.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 stops to earn his fourth shutout of the season in a 3-0 win over the Sabres. Chris Kunitz, Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass all scored for the Penguins.
“I got a little excited toward the end of the third,” Fleury admitted, who tends to be unlucky when it comes to keeping shutouts. “I was happy to make the saves and keep the zero going.”
He had to work to make a number of those saves early in the third. After a relatively uneventful first 40 minutes, the Sabres came out determined to start the final 20 and forced Fleury to make a few tremendous stops to keep them off the board and from getting back into this game.
Their two biggest chances came with Brian Flynn and then Matt Moulson all alone in the slot. Despite that, Fleury was able to keep the puck from crossing the goal line on both occasions.
“The first one was pretty close,” Fleury said. “I cut across and tried to take his options away. I was happy I made the save. Then I just tried to get my legs up but didn't want it to bounce off me and I didn't want it to just go in. I was happy it went through.
“(With) Moulson I tried to be patient. He has good hands. It worked all right.”
Fleury certainly bailed his teammates out on those plays when they “kind of went to sleep,” as Glass said, as defensive-zone breakdowns resulted in those two Sabres finding open seams and having time and space.
“You don't want to leave your goaltender with chances against like that and guys behind you,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Marc made three really big saves in the first six minutes of that period and came up big for us. He picked us up when we had a breakdown. You need that from your goaltender. He was there for us tonight in that regard.”
While a win is certainly a win, overall, the Pens know they still need to improve.
“I think we were making plays, we weren’t necessarily connecting on everything,” Kunitz said. “We still have to focus on being a better team, talking defensive zone and coming out and making too many plays and not turning pucks over. I think we did a great job limiting them to chances, but we still have a lot of games to grow here as a team. We need to get better every single day we come to the rink.”
NEW DAD SCORES
On Sunday, Chris Kunitz and wife Maureen welcomed their third child, baby girl Aubrey Ann – who joined brother Zachary and sister Payton. On Monday, Kunitz returned to work and scored a big goal for his team in their win over Buffalo.
"It's nice to help contribute to the team when you've been focusing on your family the last few days,” Kunitz said. “It's nice to have the day off and to have the experience with my wife having our third child, but you still have to come to work and try to do your job. Obviously your mind is somewhere else before you get to the rink, but it worked out. Everybody is happy and healthy and we came and got the win tonight."
The goal was Kunitz’s 26th of the season, tying his career high set two seasons ago.
The play was started by Sidney Crosby, continued by Brian Gibbons and finished by Kunitz. Crosby nearly tucked a backhand under a prone Miller, but the goalie kept it out. Gibbons recovered it, but his shot banged off the post. Fortunately, it bounced right to Kunitz – who backhanded it into the open net.
Gibbons played the first two games of Pittsburgh’s western Canada road trip against Vancouver and Edmonton on that line and started the third against Calgary, but was injured against the Flames and missed the next five games with an upper-body injury. He rejoined the lineup tonight, replacing Chuck Kobasew on the right wing next to Crosby and Kunitz.
BOTTOM SIX SCORES
This morning, Tanner Glass – who threw a franchise-record 13 hits in Pittsburgh’s last game on Saturday in Dallas – said physicality would be key against the Sabres, especially from the third and fourth lines in order to make room for ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno’ to create offense.
And while the bottom six did bring that physicality, they also created some offense of their own as well – which certainly never hurts. Glass had a goal and an assist, Engelland had a goal and Craig Adams earned the primary assist on both, his first points in 38 games.
“Never hurts,” Glass agreed with a laugh. “You’re not relied upon to do it, but it’s still okay to do it sometimes. It feels good to chip in like that.”
“It’s always great to chip in instead of Sid and Geno and those guys always doing it,” Engelland agreed. “To get a few from the bottom six is a big thing.”
The defenseman-turned-forward Engelland, skating on the right wing of the fourth line after being scratched against the Stars, combined with Glass and Craig Adams to score a big second-period goal for the Pens.
Engelland created the play and he finished it. It began when he forced a turnover at the blue line and held the zone. Glass, who had drifted out in anticipation of play transitioning, sprinted back in, lifted a defenseman’s stick and carried into the corner. He centered a pass into the slot that Adams tipped back to Engelland, who buried it past Miller.
“It somehow squeaked by (Adams) but ended up on my stick,” Engelland said. “It snuck through and I just tried to get it on net and it goes in. I wasn’t expecting to get the puck there. I was kind of shocked.”
Glass then added an empty-net goal late in the third to cap off yet another impassioned and impressive performance from the gritty winger.
“He's added his two best games of the year,” Bylsma said of Glass, adding “He had four hits for the first period, physical, makes a great play on the goal for Deryk Engelland. He gets rewarded at the end with the empty-net goal. Two of his better games playing physical, hard and tough to play against.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo