Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 5-4 win over Vegas...
* This night was as emotional as it gets. Marc-Andre Fleury made his return to Pittsburgh, and the fans gave an absolutely incredible reception to the beloved goaltender that called this city home for 13 years (and probably always will) The cheers started when he took the ice for warmups - where the fans gathered with countless amazing signs - and didn't stop. But of course, they peaked during the tribute video during the first TV timeout. He stood behind his net to watch, and chants of "FLEURY! FLEURY!" started numerous times as the memories played out on the screen.
Fleury was extremely emotional, wiping tears from his eyes, giving a salute to the crowd and putting his glove over his heart as they gave him the loudest ovation I've ever heard for a returning player. "It was just an incredible ovation," said Sidney Crosby, who may have delayed skating into the faceoff circle to restart play to let his friend soak in every single second of the moment. "You don't want to say you ever expect that, you don't see it very often. But that being said, you knew it was going to be a warm welcome and just happy for Flower. I knew it was one he circled on his calendar." In addition, Steelers lineback Ryan Shazier was in the crowd and was able to stand (with minor assistance) as the crowd stood and cheered in appreciation.
All in all, the Pens did a good job of staying focused through everything that was going on.
* Fleury faced a pretty big workload tonight. This was a relatively free-flowing game in the sense that both teams were going back-and-forth and creating chances - forcing both goalies to come up with tough saves - but neither one necessarily dominated zone time. The Knights had the edge in play over the first 30 or so minutes, but the Pens turned it towards the end of the second period and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. They followed that up with a big third, and finished with a big two points.
* The Pens' forwards also handled a pretty big workload tonight. They lost both Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney in the first period, and Dominik Simon only played one shift in the third after taking two penalties in the game, which meant Crosby played a team-high 25:22 minutes. "Everyone gets into the game pretty quickly when that happens, especially early," he said. "We did a good job of managing it. There was special teams both ways, but a lot of our penalties came early on. Those guys are two pretty big penalty killers. We handled that well. But we had a pretty short bench there for a while. Kept it simple and found ways to create offense."
* Ian Cole has Fleury's number. Two of the defenseman's three goals this season have come against his former teammate. Tonight's was a beauty, as he received a pass from Bryan Rust, skated into the slot and waited patiently for an opportunity to rip one into the back of the net. Cole has been so good offensively since re-entering the lineup after being a healthy scratch for 7 straight games, with a goal and 3 assists in his last 5 contests.
* Evgeni Malkin extended his goal scoring streak to 5 games, where he's tallied 9 times over that span. It's funny - when I wrote about Malkin's scoring spree on Tuesday, all of his teammates that I talked to said the same thing. "He's so hot right now, you just want to give him the puck and it'll probably go in," Justin Schultz said. That's exactly what Phil Kessel did during a 2-on-1 in the third period. Sometimes those guys are guilty of too much passing on those plays, but Malkin just locked and loaded. He's feeling good with his shot right now, and it shows. Malkin later returned the favor to Kessel, while Crosby finished with two assists. The big boys just keep on rolling.
"It can't be easy going up against us, especially when certain guys are playing the way they are," Matt Murray said. "To be honest, I don't really want to find out. It's fun to watch on this end, though, for sure. It's something that becomes normal around here. We have so many good players in this room. I say it all the time, we all feel so lucky to be a part of this team and watch some of these guys. They're just so special and some of the best ever to play the game."