Fleury stops 32 shots as Penguins shut out Capitals
The Pittsburgh Penguins were glad to be back at Consol Energy Center after their longest road trip in three years.
Recently, though, they’ve felt right at home against the Washington Capitals regardless of where they play.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, leading Pittsburgh to a 2-0 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.
Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby scored for the Penguins, who swept the teams’ home-and series one night after beating the Capitals 3-2 in Washington. Pittsburgh has beaten its longtime rivals a franchise-record eight straight times.
"Every time we play them, it’s pretty intense," said Fleury, who has 28 career shutouts. "It’s always a close game and a hard-fought game, so it’s nice to get the `W.’"
The Penguins have also won three in a row and picked up at least a point in eight of their last 10 games. Pittsburgh was at home for the second time since the end of the Olympic break, having traveled more than 6,000 miles in playing five games over three time zones the previous 10 days.
Jaroslav Halak stopped 32 shots in his third start for Washington. Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the fourth consecutive game as the Capitals lost for the fourth time in their last five.
Fleury tied his career high for shutouts in a season while winning his sixth straight start against the Capitals, whom the Penguins swept the season series from for the second year in a row.
"We created a lot more chances than last game and more shots, and that was something we wanted to improve on," Crosby said. "But defensively we were pretty good."
Pittsburgh widened its lead in the Eastern Conference to three points over the idle Boston Bruins and also increased its Metropolitan Division bulge to 16 points over the New York Rangers.
Unlike Fleury, Halak was played both games on consecutive nights between the teams. Acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres last week, Halak’s first three starts with the Capitals have come over a four-day span.
Jokinen beat him at 16:41 of the first. Left unchecked by Capitals defenseman Mike Green while skating through the slot, Jokinen offered a deft re-direct of Matt Niskanen’s shot from the right point for his 17th goal of the season — but first since Jan. 30.
Evgeni Malkin earned the second assist on the play, extending his assists streak to five games.
Crosby scored for the second straight night against Halak, this time with a low wrist shot to the stick side with 5:48 left in the game after skating swiftly down the right wing.
Halak said he was surprised by the shot — he was expecting Crosby to pass it to Chris Kunitz.
"I just tried to look to pass as long as I could," Crosby said, "just to see if he’d bite and try to hold him there."
Lee Stempniak had the only assist on the goal in his home debut for Penguins after he and fellow forward Marcel Goc were acquired in trade-deadline day deals last week.
Eleven minutes into the second period, the Capitals came the closest to scoring when rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov flipped a shot from just to the right of Fleury that clanged off the post before deflecting off of Fleury’s left pad as he sprawled out.
"If we tie the game there," Ovechkin said, "maybe it’s a little bit different game."
Largely untested and forced to make just 12 saves through two periods, Fleury faced the brunt of the Washington onslaught during the third.
"The first period, they controlled the game," Ovechkin said. "The last 30 minutes, we played our game, got the puck deep, started to cycle. Maybe we were just a little bit tired, maybe we were just a little sleepy. We just weren’t ready for the first period.
The Capitals’ No.2 NHL power play had two opportunities over the game’s final 12 minutes, plus an extended 6-on-5 with Halak pulled over the final 90 seconds.
But Fleury denied chances by Mark Chimera, Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson for some of his best third-period saves.
"The first and second, there weren’t too many shots," Fleury said. "The third was crazy — but it was fun though. You get a good sweat and get a win."
Washington dropped into 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings and dropped three points out of the final playoff spot.
"(The desperation level) needs to be a little more from everybody," Halak said. "Now, it’s do-or-die for us."
NOTES: Kunitz missed a shift after crashing violently into the goal post during the third period. Bylsma said the contact was not directly to Kunitz’s knee. … Washington C Brooks Laich did not make the trip to Pittsburgh because he continues to be hampered by a groin injury. Laich has missed two of the past four games. … Early Tuesday, the Capitals recalled C Casey Wellman and D Patrick Wey from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey. Wey, a native of a Pittsburgh suburb, was a healthy scratch. … Before the game, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that D Kris Letang has been skating and working out in Pittsburgh. Letang has not played since suffering a stroke Jan. 29. He remains out indefinitely.