Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best goalie in Penguins’ history for at least a couple of years, and now he has the numbers to back up that status.
Fleury made 23 saves Saturday afternoon at Consol Energy Center, backstopping the Penguins to a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers, the team’s eighth straight win. With the 23rd shutout of his career, the 28-year-old Fleury surpassed Tom Barrasso for the franchise record in that category.
Fleury, who is also the team’s all-time leader in games played by a goaltender (455) and wins (241), certainly deserves top-billing in the Penguins’ seventh consecutive victory against the Rangers.
However, the win was arguably Pittsburgh’s most complete of the season, featuring responsible defensive play and offense from throughout the lineup. Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey earned two points apiece, with four other players also writing their names on the scoresheet.
Perhaps most impressively, the Penguins won a game without a point from either NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who missed his fourth game in a row with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh also continued its recent third-period domination, as Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis scored in the final frame to secure the win.
The Penguins (21-8-0, 42 points) moved one point up on Boston and two ahead of Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference, pending the Canadiens’ matchup with New Jersey on Saturday night. Speaking of the Devils, Pittsburgh now leads them by 10 points for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
After two rousing comebacks this week, the Penguins took a more typical path to victory when rookie winger Beau Bennett sniped a slap shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for his second NHL goal 90 seconds into the game. Bennett’s hard drive from the right circle, set up by Jeffrey and Kennedy, rang off the left post and in.
Pittsburgh dominated the first period, outshooting the Rangers 12-4 in the frame, but Lundqvist denied Chris Kunitz and Dupuis when they had great scoring chances after sharp passes from Crosby. Lundqvist, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, stopped 24 shots and generally played well.
New York (13-12-2, 28 points) fell behind early in a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Thursday, and they again failed to dig out due to an absence of offensive punch. The Rangers’ best stretch of play occurred early in the second, when Fleury stopped Rick Nash on a point-blank opportunity and made another kick save after a goalmouth scramble.
But the Rangers never did solve Fleury, who got more support in the third, where the Penguins have scored eight goals in their past three games. Kennedy added his second point of the game 6 1/2 minutes into the period when he slammed a power-play one-timer from the left circle. Kris Letang set him up with an accurate pass from the center point position.
Forty-three seconds later, Dupuis buried his 14th after Jeffrey sent him in alone on Lundqvist. Dupuis deked to his backhand and roofed a sharp-angle flip to make it 3-0 on the even-strength counterattack started by Matt Cooke in the neutral zone.
It was all about Fleury from there, as he locked up his first shutout since he blanked the Rangers on Feb. 21, 2012.
“I’ve been waiting for this one for a while now,” he told the assembled media after the game. “It felt good to get it.”
The Penguins welcome the Bruins to Consol Energy Center on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Pittsburgh scored three goals in the final six minutes Tuesday night to edge Boston 3-2.