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Pens/Wild Recap: Fleury denies former teammates in potential swan song against them

The Pens’ power play woes largely continue, but Marc-Andre Fleury was the star of the show in his own celebration night

NHL: FEB 09 Penguins at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pregame

The Wild give Marc-Andre Fleury a touching tribute before the game.

The Penguins go with their expected skaters, but send in Alex Nedeljkovic for the first night of their back-to-back.

First period

Pittsburgh catches a break early, Ryan Hartman high-sticks Sidney Crosby 25 seconds after the opening puck drop, leading to a four-minute power play. But then the power play takes the ice and does little with it. Only 3 SOG, which makes it sound more exciting than the four fruitless moments that it was.

Halfway through the first period the roles are reversed, Middleton is high-sticked by Lars Eller to send Minnesota to a four-minute power play. Big change of momentum, being as the Wild only generated one SOG in the first 10:35 of the game. It doesn’t start so hot, but Matt Boldy rushes up through the middle of the ice, takes a pass from Kirill Kaprizov, goes inside-out on Marcus Pettersson and unleashes a great shot by Nedeljkovic. 1-0 MIN.

Dakota Mermis holds up Drew O’Connor in front of the net and the Pens are back to the power play. It stinks again!

The trade off power plays continue, Erik Karlsson takes an offensive zone tripping call with 10 seconds left in the period and Nedeljkovic has to rob a Wild player to keep the game at 1-0.

Six power play minutes for the Penguins and zero rhythm or progress. Not fun times early on.

Second period

There isn’t an overwhelming response by the Pens after the first break, but they do even the score early anyways. Nedeljkovic does well to again keep the puck out at one end, and the play goes the other way. Evgeni Malkin centers it for Reilly Smith and Smith breaks an 11-game goal drought with a nice finish. 1-1.

Bryan Rust and Kaprizov get too sassy for each other and both taken off the ice. In the 4v4, Jonas Brodin takes advantage of the extra open ice and a crazy bounce off Pettersson in front to hack the puck past Nedeljkovic before anyone knows what happened. 2-1 MIN back in front.

The man they call the Dragon gets a piece of the leg of Marcus Foligno and puts the Pens back on the PK to end out the period but nothing comes of it.

Pittsburgh is hanging around, but it’s a disjointed effort through 40 minutes and not some of their best work.

Third period

The Pens kill off the rest of Pettersson’s penalty and then get a power play of their own. And wouldn’t you know it, Karlsson finds the stick of Crosby for the captain to steer in a goal. Elite players teaming up for a nice PPG? Haven’t seen enough of that. Pens draw back to even.

Kaprizov hits the post, then Eller is back to the penalty box for hooking. Pittsburgh kills it off, but as it has all night, it feels like they’re hanging on for dear life just to keep up.

A weird play happens, Nedeljkovic and Jake Guentzel signaled while play was going on that the puck had hit the net in the Pens’ end, play continued and Kaprizov buried a rebound.

Pittsburgh challenged and after a lengthy and Zapruder-like review to see if the net above play fluttered the refs finally came back and said it was a good goal.

Minnesota gets the power play for the failed challenge, the Pens kill if off but lose two minutes in the attempt to comeback.

Boldy tripped up Guentzel to give the Pens’ power play one more crack at it. No dice.

With 2:16 left, the Pens pull Nedeljkovic. Brodin high-sticks Guentzel in front of the net to allow another Penguin power play with 1:50 to go.

From there on, it’s a patented Fleury scramble drill defending in the 6v4 Penguin advantage. Timeout is called with 39 seconds left but try as the Penguins may to throw havoc at Fleury, he keeps the puck out of the net.

Some thoughts

  • Crosby lost the opening faceoffs on the power play in the first period and the Pens were in deep trouble from there. It’s almost as if the coaching staff didn’t take into account that Karlsson and Malkin handle the vast majority of breakouts, NZ carries and zone entries when not one but both were demoted off the top group. Say what you will about either or both of their effectiveness overall on the power play, but it was swimming upstream without them to advance the puck and seems like a poor oversight.
  • Karlsson was back with Crosby on the power play in the third period, likely because Kris Letang was PK’ing the shift before. And they combined to score the type of back-door tap in we all dreamed about! Why make this more hard than it has to be? It’s already difficult enough for these guys.
  • On the flipside, the Wild scored a PPG with the skill and speed of Kaprizov and Boldy on full display, catching Jeff Carter a little slow at the blueline. No fun there. With Noel Acciari injured and Lars Eller serving a penalty the Pens’ PK was stretched just a little too thin up front for a long kill.
  • Eller taking six minutes worth of penalties on the night stands out. He’s a smart and good player, doesn’t put his team down much (only 16 PIMs on the season before tonight).
  • The series of double minors in the opening period was a head-scratcher in the first place. No one, from broadcasters to officials, could tell exactly what happened to Crosby after he went down in a heap following a battle and an errant stick. If the refs call for a double-minor on the ice, then they get the benefit of a video review to take another look at what happened to confirm or retract their call. Usually a double-minor is only reserved for bleeding, which it didn’t look like Crosby was. Middleton’s stick did clip Crosby high, no apparent blood was drawn, yet after review they decided to stick with the four minute call...Later on Eller definitely got his stick up, but again drew no blood. Another should be minor penalty, but the refs took that opportunity to even up the ledger and issue a double-minor. That’s fitting enough, can’t complain about the leveling of the playing field — aside from the fact each side only should have had minors in the first place. But you can’t change what the officials call, you can only play through it. The Pens couldn’t score on their extended power play, it took until the extra time but the Wild did.
  • In a positive: Ryan Graves had three blocked shots in the first period, many by way of the active stick to use his reach and wingspan to get some good old fashioned stick-on-puck action and deflect shot attempts out of danger. It’ll take a lot to undue his sour first impression of the first 30-40 games, but quietly he’s been more effective and settling in lately in the defensive zone.
  • Another positive: Reilly Smith scored his first goal since December 18th (coincidentally in a game that was also against Minnesota). Small steps but hopefully something to build upon.
  • Fittingly enough the final stretch was the five of Fleury’s last remaining Penguin teammates (Rust, Guentzel, Crosby, Malkin, Letang) all trying to score on him. If this ends up as his last game against the Pens, what a way for him to go out on his very own celebration night.

Tough loss for the Pens, a 1/8 power play bites them in a game where it felt like they were either playing from behind or trying just to keep up with the Wild all night long. Pittsburgh gets the chance to bounce back tomorrow in Winnipeg.