Neal, Penguins handle Canadiens

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 20, 2011
James Neal scored his NHL-leading seventh goal of the season, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-1 victory over struggling Montreal on Thursday night. Joe Vitale and Arron Asham added their first goals of the season for Pittsburgh. Neal had just one goal in 20 games for Pittsburgh last season after coming over in a trade from Dallas. Yet he moved into a tie with Toronto's Phil Kessel for the NHL goals lead when his shot from the top of the circle clanked off the post then caromed off goalie Carey Price's back and into the net to give the Penguins an early lead. Price stopped 29 shots for the Canadiens, who have lost four straight. Brian Gionta scored with less than 2 minutes to go to spoil Fleury's bid for his 20th career shutout. Pittsburgh rolled despite playing without star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby continues his slow comeback from a pair of concussions that have sidelined him since January while Malkin is dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. There remains no timetable for Crosby's return while Malkin is day-to-day. The way Neal is lighting it up, there's no need for either to hurry. The veteran forward was supposed to provide some scoring punch last spring after coming over in a trade from Dallas but never got going as the Penguins fell to Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs. Neal found his footing during training camp and did his best to put last season's frustrations behind him. He's quickly developed some chemistry with linemate Pascal Dupuis and is helping the injury riddled Penguins stay afloat while their stars heal. While Neal's play was expected, Vitale has been a surprise. He scored his first goal of the season and second of his career in the second, deflecting in a shot from Deryk Engelland by Price to put the Penguins up 2-0. Asham batted in a shot from the slot early in the third period to score his first goal of the season in his 700th career game. It would be all the offense Fleury would need as Pittsburgh's defense shut down the Canadiens thanks in part to the return of veteran Brooks Orpik. Orpik missed the first eight games of the season while recovering from abdominal surgery and played nearly 18 minutes. The Penguins needed him while playing without defenseman Kris Letang, who sat out the second game of his two-game suspension for an illegal hit on Winnipeg's Alex Burmistrov on Monday. Orpik helped Pittsburgh's improved power play kill off all four of Montreal's man advantage chances. The Penguins have now killed 30-of-31 power plays this season, tops in the league. Montreal's offense continued to flounder even with the return of Mike Cammalleri, who missed the previous three games with a leg laceration. The Canadiens have managed just eight goals during their four-game slide, with five of them coming in a 6-5 shootout loss to Colorado on Saturday. Montreal veteran Hal Gill, who helped the Penguins win the 2009 Stanley Cup, received a warm ovation from the Consol Energy Center crowd while playing in 1,000th career game. It was about as hospitable as things would get for the Canadiens, who went 2-0 in Pittsburgh's new digs last year. Pittsburgh controlled play from the outset, jumping on Montreal early. NOTES: Montreal F Scott Gomez left the game with an upper body injury after the first period. ... The Penguins host New Jersey on Saturday night. The Canadiens begin a three-game homestand on Saturday against Toronto. ... Engelland finished with two assists to pick up his first points of the season.
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