WASHINGTON (AP) – With Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ skaters off to a low-scoring start to the season, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is carrying the club.
Fleury made 33 saves, and Phil Kessel scored the go-ahead goal off Evgeni Malkin’s pass less than 2 minutes after Beau Bennett tied it in the third period, leading Pittsburgh past Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Wednesday night.
“‘Flower,’ was big when he had to be,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said, using Fleury’s nickname.
Never bigger than in the second period, when the Penguins were outshot 14-4.
“The more shots he sees, the better he plays,” said Bennett, who returned after missing five games while injured. “We can’t do that every night, but he was definitely our best player tonight and kept us in it, even when they had those flurries in the second period.”
Fleury has started every game this season, and after opening with three losses, the Penguins have won five of their past six.
They also ended the Capitals’ five-game winning streak.
After a pair of scoreless periods and superb play by both goalies, Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov put the hosts ahead about 1 1/2 minutes into the third, when his wrist shot deflected off the left skate of Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi and past Fleury.
“Our guy scored,” Fleury said with a chuckle, “so that doesn’t count.”
Even Washington coach Barry Trotz couldn’t help but concede it was “a little bit of a fortunate goal.”
And then he lamented that the “next shift was huge.”
That’s because all of 24 seconds later, it was tied, thanks to Bennett. His initial shot was blocked by Braden Holtby, but Bennett put in the rebound. Soon after, Malkin sent the puck in front of the goal and through defenseman Karl Alzner’s legs to Kessel for his fourth goal. In Pittsburgh’s previous game, Kessel scored the winner 41 seconds into overtime to beat Nashville 2-1.
On Wednesday, Nick Bonino added an empty-net goal with less than 2 minutes left.
Fleury’s save count included a stop on Ovechkin on a rush with Kuznetsov with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. Neither Ovechkin nor Crosby – who has only one goal and two assists this season, all in the same game – registered a point.
Pittsburgh entered the game with a grand total of 13 goals, the second-lowest total in the entire NHL. And their power play has been the NHL’s worst, now 2 for 31 this season.
Thanks to overlapping penalties on Washington’s Chandler Stephenson and Brooks Orpik, the Penguins had 105 seconds of 5-on-3 time in the first period. But not only did they fail to score, they only managed to put two shots on net during that two-man advantage.
Then, 4 seconds after the game was back at even-strength, Alzner was sent off for high-sticking. When a game official went over to get him off the bench and make him head across the ice to the penalty box, Alzner looked up incredulously and asked, “High stick?”
Notes: Last season, the Capitals went 3-1 against the Penguins, outscoring them 13-5, and Holtby had shutouts in two of those games. … As part of Hockey Fights Cancer Night, and in connection with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, a 12-year-old from Maryland participated in a ceremonial puck drop between Ovechkin and Crosby. Fans booed loudly when Crosby’s name was announced.