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Fleury dominant in 40-save performance as Penguins shut out Flyers 4-0

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Fleury dominant in 40-save performance as Penguins shut out Flyers 4-0

The Canadian Press
By:

Only this time it wasn't Sidney Crosby, but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, the top pick in 2003 who didn't win the starting job until the final pre-season game, turned aside 40 shots and the Penguins played one of their best games in years before their prospective new owner by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Crosby, coming off his 102-point rookie season, scored a goal and third-line forwards Michel Ouellet and Jarkko Ruttu set up each other less than three minutes apart in the first period to give the surprisingly good Penguins the early lead and some momentum.

Leading the cheers was Jim Balsillie, a Canadian businessman who signed a sales agreement for the estimated $175 million purchase from Mario Lemieux's ownership group hours before the opening faceoff. The league still must ratify the sale.

The Penguins not only got a goal from an unexpected source - defenceman Josef Melichar, who had only three last season - they overcame a 40-21 Flyers shots advantage. They also killed off two Philadelphia two-man advantages in the first two periods behind Fleury, who came into the game with a 17-41-2-6 career record and a spotty pre-season in which he nearly lost his job to Jocelyn Thibault.

"He played awesome," said forward Colby Armstrong, who set the tone by holding his own in a fight with much-larger defenceman Nolan Baumgartner. "To get off to a good start is huge. We showed a lot of emotion, took good shots, had some big hits and made some big saves. We were coming hard all night."

The Flyers were 0-for-10 on the power play, and star Peter Forsberg - coming off an ankle injury - did not take a shot in 16 1/2 minutes of playing time.

"I think they're a better team this year," Forsberg said. "It will a tough battle every time we play them."

Fleury said seeing so many shots wasn't a problem "because it keeps me focused. I don't mind it - as long as we win."

Playing on the first anniversary of Crosby's long-awaited NHL debut, a dismally played 5-1 loss in New Jersey that started them on a season-opening nine-game losing streak, the Penguins unexpectedly took the play to the Flyers. Philadelphia won six of eight from them last season.

"It was a hard game, a very physical game they made it very difficult for us," Flyers forward Mike Knuble said. "The team kind of fed off him. He made some big saves and it carried through their team."

Pittsburgh scored on four of its first 11 shots against Robert Esche, a performance more reminiscent of the Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr days than those during the franchise's four consecutive last-place division finishes since 2003. The Penguins frequently outskated the Flyers to the puck, fed off a succession of excellent saves by Fleury and a strong game by the Ouellet-Dominic Moore-Ruutu line.

Moore and Ruutu were among new general manager Ray Shero's off-season pickups - not big-name players but ones he felt would fit in well with a fast-skating, youthful team that will have four players 20 or younger when Russian star Evgeni Malkin recovers from his dislocated left shoulder.

The Penguins played three teenagers - an almost unheard of occurrence in a major team sport - with first-round pick Jordan Staal, who just turned 18, and 19-year-old defenceman Kris Letang making their NHL debuts.

No wonder the Flyers didn't see this coming. The game got away from them quickly when Ouellet powered a shot from the top of the right circle beyond Esche slightly more than four minutes into the game.

Ouellet then set up Ruutu less than three minutes later for a tap-in that made it 2-0. The big lift provided by that lead clearly gave a boost to a Penguins team whose 22 victories last season were the fewest for the franchise since the 1983-84 team won only 16, giving them the chance to draft Lemieux.

"Last year doesn't mean anything now," Crosby said. "It's an opportunity to start fresh. It's hard to compare, but we came out prepared to play the best we can."

Crosby made it 3-0 early in the second period, beating Esche inside the near post from below the left circle.

Lemieux's No. 66 jersey banner was raised again to the Mellon Arena ceiling before the game, nine months after the Hall of Fame center retired for the second time.

Notes: Crosby has eight goals in nine career games against Philadelphia. ... Fleury's shutout was his second; he won a 1-0 decision against Chicago in the first month of his rookie season. ... The Penguins had lost six consecutive openers, last winning in 1999 against the Islanders.

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Fleury dominant in 40-save performance as Penguins shut out Flyers 4-0