One goal was all Marc-Andre Fleury needed to ensure a Pittsburgh win last night in New Jersey as the Penguins won 1-0.
Penguins 1 – Devils 0
Ruslan Fedotenko was the recipient of a beautiful give-and-go pass from Evgeni Malkin and was left all alone to fire a wrist shot past New Jersey goaltender Scott Clemmensen at the 12:51 mark of the second period. Clemmensen got in front of the puck, but it squeezed between his arm and body and had just enough speed left to trickle past the goal line.
Fleury did the rest.
Stopping all 37 New Jersey shots, Fleury provided the clutch performance that his team needed to win a HUGE game. Though it seemed as if the Penguins were getting the majority of the scoring chances, New Jersey had a huge shot advantage. The Devils finished the game with a 37-18 lead in that category.
Fleury shut them down with perfect positioning. He was always in the right place to face every shot and if he gave up a rebound he improvised. This was exemplified when Fleury dove across the crease to make a glove save on what should have been a virtual empty net goal.
He and the entire team benefited from something they haven’t gotten in a long time: luck.
The biggest example of luck came from Mark Eaton. A mass of players stormed the Penguins’ net in search of a loose puck. Brian Gionta was laying on top of Fleury as the puck trickled toward the goal line.
Just before it crossed the line Eaton turned his head, found the puck and kicked it away … maybe the biggest save of the game.
The effort from all around enabled the Pens to win and, consequently, jump over the Devils in the standings. Pittsburgh now sits third in the Atlantic Division. They also moved in to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, tied with Montreal.
Thus, another huge game tonight.
Montreal comes to town in a bit of a funk, not unlike the Penguins. The Canadiens have been unable to string more than two wins together at a time throughout the month of December.
After starting the season off hot, they have surrendered the Northeast Division lead to Boston and now trail the Bruins by 12 points.
What is out of control is that they have only played one away game all month, which was a 3-2 loss to Carolina. The Habs have had nine home games, the first six of which were a part of a seven-game homestand dating back to the end of November.
The Pens can really take advantage of the unfamiliarity Montreal has with the road. Montreal arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday to get acclimated and prepare for the game.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh can also take advantage of Montreal’s inability to score goals. The Canadiens are averaging barely over two goals a game in their last five. So, let’s apply the same strategy that we did against New Jersey — score first.
It is unknown if Fleury will start tonight, but he did the last time the Pens played back-to-back games and he is projected to do so. Give this guy a lead to protect and, chances are, he will do just that.
Montreal has balanced scoring with no real superstar. However, they are names you’ve heard before and there is no doubt that these guys know how to light the lamp.
Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov are tied for the team lead in scoring with 26 points. Behind them is Robert Lang (25 pts.) and Saku Koivu (22 pts.).
In goal, Carey Price is solid. With a 13-4-5 record, a 2.39 GAA and SV% of .919 he has been solid all year. However, he has missed a lot of time lately and could be vulnerable to give up some goals.
Forwards: Penguins. I like Montreal’s scoring depth. However, the top two lines that Pittsburgh has blows the Habs out of the water as far as scoring goes.
Defense: Montreal. The Canadiens have given up just 86 goals this year. Plus, they have four solid defensemen with a positive plus/minus rating.
Goaltending: Penguins. Fleury has played more often and, judging by last night, he is back to his old ways. This is close though because Price is very good.
Special Teams: Penguins. Both penalty killing units are very similar. However, Montreal’s power play is putrid.
It will likely be a low-scoring game. What worries me is that the Pens have been roughly .500 in back-to-back games this year. With that trend, the Pens should lose. I think last night’s win might have been a kick the teams needs. Solid effort with a few more shots can win this game and I believe that’s what will happen. So … Pens win 3-2 in overtime … I hope.
Chris | PPT