Everyone knows that Coyotes have trouble dealing with flightless birds. So why the hell would Dave Tipett start goalie Mike Smith, who has the worst coyote of them all – Wile E. – painted on his mask, against the Penguins?
The Pens may have been a little slower than the Road Runner for most of last night but that didn’t matter because Marc-Andre Fleury blew up the Phoenix offense like an ACME time bomb on his way to a 36-save performance in the Pens’ 2-1 win.
The Pens have now won six straight games (the longest current streak in the NHL) and their last three have come against West teams that are praying they make the playoffs. And Fleury has slammed the door in all their faces.
With Dallas, Colorado and Phoenix all on the verge of missing the postseason, it’s no coincidence that over the last three games, the Pens have been outshot in each of them – the first time this year they’ve been outshot in three straight. And with the Pens chasing the Rangers for the East thrown, it’s no coincidence that Fleury’s played his best hockey in those three games.
He came up huge in the shootout against the Stars, he nearly set the new record for career shutouts by a Penguin against the Avs, and he came within a period of setting the record again last night. Even though the Pens scored fewer than four goals for the first time five games, Fleury earned himself some more Vezina talk with his game.
Even though the Pens looked flat for most of the game, especially early in the first period, they got on the board first 11:44 into the game. Zbynek Michalek gave the Coyotes a big “Suck It” for letting him walk in free agency two years ago by scoring his first goal in 38 games against his former team.
Three minutes later Chris Kunitz picked the same low, farside corner the Z used to score to notch his 19th of the year. Geno Malkin set up the goal and don’t look now but that’s the second eight-game point streak for Geno Machino this year – he’s got 12 points (6 G, 6 A).
The second period was pretty boring until Matt Cooke crashed the net and wound up getting punched in the face by a goalie for the second time in three games. There was about 25 people in the Phoenix crease with face washes all around and Smith right in the middle…Consol wanted Fleury to join in but he was busy plotting his game-saving stop.
The Pens ended up getting a power play out of Smith’s blocker punch and halfway through that power play, James Neal got his pocket picked at his own blue line by Martin Hanzel. Hanzel had a nice mini, shorthanded breakaway but Fleury decided to meet him half way with a sliding poke check/pad stack that worked to perfection and kept the Coyotes scoreless.
Ray Whitney **** on Fleury’s shutout bid almost as soon as the third started when he got a wide-open look from three inches in front of Fleury. But Fleury got redemption on Whitney later in the third when he robbed him twice of the tying goal, the last chance coming in the final 30 seconds.
The Pens still have three more games over the next five days against Toronto, Florida and Boston so Fleury is going to need to keep standing on his head if the Pens are going to finish any higher than fourth in the East.
Seven is better than six, boys.