The last time the Penguins won as many as eight home games in row? It was the franchise record 13 straight Nov. 15, 2013-Jan. 15, 2014 under coach Dan Bylsma. The goalie then was Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury made an emotional return Tuesday as a member of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The tribute video during the game’s first TV timeout brought a rousing standing ovation from a PPG Paints Arena crowd that understandably had mixed emotions.
The way things unfolded in the Penguins’ 5-4 win for that eighth in a row at home, maybe everyone left satisfied.
They got to cheer Fleury. They got to see a big Penguins’ comeback. The only thing missing was a shootout with Fleury against his protégé, Matt Murray.
“I didn’t know what to expect. In the warmup, I had goosebumps,” said Fleury, who got his 2017 Stanley Cup ring from Mario Lemieux and other Penguins management in the morning. “It’s a night I won’t forget. It was very, just weird. … But it was a game I’ll remember forever.”
During the tribute video, Fleury was understated. He watched it while standing behind his net, then raised his stick and offered a little wave. A photo by Peter Diana of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed Fleury with his head bowed, fighting back tears.
Murmurs of a possible Fleury shutout against his old club circulated when Vegas was ahead 2-0, but those turned into an uncomfortable dread of Fleury maybe getting pulled when the Penguins zoomed back to take a 5-2 lead.
“Good for us to climb back in it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had two assists. “It wasn’t looking good for a while. We were down a couple. A big second and then followed it up with a big third.”
Who’s Who of Scorers
Ryan Reaves, Ian Cole (you read that right) Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel scored for the Penguins.
Seconds into the game, Fleury brushed aside a tip-in attempt by Crosby.
“I would have loved to score,” Crosby said with a grin. “I thought he was going to be a little more aggressive. He was patient there and made a good save.”
Eleven more saves later (including an extended left pad save on a short breakaway by Guentzel), Fleury headed to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, thanks to William Karlsson’s power-play goal.
Malkin took an offensive zone slashing penalty, and Vegas had essentially a brief five-on-three advantage when Penguins penalty killer Carter Rowney limped off the ice and down the runway after being felled by a shot. Karlsson scored on a one-timer from Vegas leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault.
Former Penguins winger James Neal scored not a sniper’s goal but a little finesse backhander from traffic for a 2-0 lead in the second.
The Penguins then broke loose with goals from … Reaves and Cole. (Who had them in the pool?)
Reaves’ unobstructed shot from the left dot squirted between Fleury’s glove and pad, and Cole scored from the left hash marks on a high, short-side shot, making it 2-2.
Guentzel made it three unanswered Penguins goals for a 3-2 lead on a point shot through heavy traffic with 1:20 left in the second.
Finally, one of Fleury’s long-time buddies broke through in the third when Malkin converted on a pass from Kessel off of a two-on-one. Malkin ripped a shot past Fleury’s blocker to make it 4-2.
Then it was Kessel’s turn, scoring into a gaping area behind Fleury off of a slick pass from Malkin. That came 28 seconds before the Golden Knights made it 5-3 when Ryan Carpenter put in a rebound.
Marchessault made it 5-4 with a severe-angle shot off of Matt Murray’s shoulder.
“It was what I think everybody expected it to be,” said Murray, who gave up four goals on 25 shots to win his third straight game since returning from a bereavement leave. “It was emotional. Pretty free-flowing game. They’re a good team, tough to play against. We had to give it our best to get the two points.”
Paralysis By Analysis
#Not good news on the injury front. Forwards Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney (blocked shot) left in the first. Coach Mike Sullivan did not have an update but called them both lower-body injuries.
#The third star of the game was … Marc-Andre Fleury. Maybe it’s a good thing that’s not any sort of official stat. He gave up five goals on 38 shots. But, hey, this was a feel-good night.
#The Penguins won a battle within the battle where one team had to give. They remained unbeaten (17-0-0) when leading after two periods. Vegas is now 22-2-0 when scoring first. Its only other loss after taking the first lead of the game was a 6-3 setback against the New York Islanders back on Oct. 30. The Penguins also are 13-0-0 when scoring at least five goals.
#Evgeni Malkin’s third-period goal was his 30th of the season. This is his sixth 30-goal season. He also equaled Sidney Crosby’s team-long scoring streak this season with nine goals over five consecutive games.
#Sidney Crosby had two assists and now has 24 points (three goals, 21 assists) in his past 13 games. But getting his 400th goal is becoming drawn out just like his 1,000th point was. He has gone nine games without a goal. His good buddy Marc-Andre Fleury stopped his four shots Tuesday, bringing to mind the Soup Nazi from Seinfield: No 400th goal for you!
#Ryan Reaves now has two of his 30 NHL goals against Fleury. He scored one when he was with St. Louis and Fleury, the Penguins. So he has the book on “Flower,” right? “I wouldn’t say I have the book on anybody,” he said. “It’s more like a pop-up book, a picture book maybe.”
#On the Penguins’ only power play of the first, the Golden Knights’ penalty killers were stifling, at one point trapping the Penguins in the neutral zone for several seconds. In fact, the Penguins and their top power play in the NHL went 0-for-5 with three total shots. Five even-strength goals covered for that.
#Highly doubtful goalie Matt Murray intended to criticize coach Mike Sullivan, but, boy, did Murray offer a glowing review of defenseman Ian Cole, who scored against Vegas but who has been a healthy scratch for 11 games this season:
“I think ‘Coler’ is one of the most underrated, underappreciated guys on our team for sure, and in the league. He does so much for us. He’s fearless back there. He blocks shots. He makes hits, he takes hits and he gets on the offense every now and again. So for a goalie, we love having a guy like ‘Coler’ on your side. He’s a vocal guy, too, and a good leader for us. He’s definitely one of the most underappreciated guys. He deserves a lot of recognition.”
#One wild cheer in the first went to someone other than Fleury. Other than to a hockey player. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, dealing with a spinal injury, was introduced and shown sitting in the stands. The cheers grew exponentially when, with a little assistance from those sitting on either side, he stood.