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Fleury blanks Flyers as Penguins halt skid in season openers

Oct 6, 2006 - 2:34 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- On a night when Mario Lemieux's number again was raised to the rafters, the Pittsburgh Penguins played as if the Hall of Famer still was in the lineup.

Sidney Crosby, Michel Ouellet and Jarkko Ruutu each had two points and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 40 shots as the Penguins posted a season-opening 4-0 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lemieux, whose No. 66 was removed from atop Mellon Arena when he came out of retirement in 2000, watched the banner return to the rafters during a pregame ceremony. Afterward, the Penguins made easy work of the Flyers to halt their six-game losing streak in season openers, which was one shy of the NHL record.

Ouellet got things started at 6:46 of the first period and set up Ruutu less than three minutes later for a 2-0 lead.

"Each night, you need a contribution from every guy," Ouellet said. "Some nights it's going to be one line and some nights it's going to be the other, so it's good for us to start the season like this."

Ouellet and Ruutu, who along with Dominic Moore formed the Penguins' third line, drew praise from Crosby.

"They played great," Crosby said. "They were stopping goals and they put two in to start us off. ... That's huge for us. Everyone needs to contribute, but to get those first two big ones from them was nice."

The second session belonged to Crosby as the super sophomore tallied at 1:57 and assisted on defenseman Josef Melichar's goal late in the period.

It was more than enough offense for Fleury, who recorded his third career shutout. The top overall pick in 2003 made 12 saves in the first period, 20 in the middle session and eight in the third to help coach Michel Therrien improve to 3-0-0 in season openers.

"The guy stood on his head tonight and got us a win," Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong said. "He showed up tonight and played really well. He made a lot of big saves tonight."

"My goal was just to get the win," Fleury said. "We had a tough time last year, so the most important thing right now is just to get some wins. That was my goal."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock also was impressed.

"He played great," Hitchcock said. "The ones he didn't see, he stopped. He made a lot of saves, especially in the second period, that he never saw."

Fleury's performance assured Therrien he made the right decision in selecting the 21-year-old as the starter over veteran Jocelyn Thibault.

"For us, he was always the guy," Therrien said. "There was no doubt. We like the way that he was preparing himself the last seven to 10 days. ... The coaching staff and the players have a lot of faith in him."

Newcomers Nils Ekman and Dominic Moore each had an assist for the Penguins, whose last home shutout was registered by Fleury on March 12, also against the Flyers.

"It was a good start and I think it's good to find out what it takes to win hockey games," Crosby said. "It takes everyone, and we saw that here tonight."

Robert Esche stopped 17 shots for Philadelphia, which went 0-for-10 on the power play.

"I think I can play better," Esche admitted. "Anytime you give up four or five goals, you have to do better. But it's a long season and you have to keep on working."

Hitchcock, who was coaching his 750th career game, saw his team fall behind for good less than seven minutes into the first. Flyers captain Peter Forsberg turned over the puck in the Penguins' zone before Ouellet beat Esche with a snap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle.

Ruutu, who assisted on the tally, scored one of his own at 9:34, burying the rebound of Ouellet's shot while uncontested at the bottom of the left circle.

"We played together in the exhibition games and we had good communication and we see each other on the ice well," Ouellet said. "Those guys just ask me to shoot the puck, and so I did and we ended up getting two goals, so that's awesome."

Crosby, who finished sixth in the league in scoring as a rookie last season with 102 points, made it 3-0 when he carried the puck to the net from along the left wing boards and beat Esche to the stick side less than two minutes into the middle session.

"I didn't have much time," Crosby said. "I got the puck pretty late and the pass wasn't there, so I just tried to look for the net and shoot, and I found the short side."

With Pittsburgh on the attack late in the period, an errant pass made its way to Philadelphia's Randy Jones. But the defenseman lost control of the puck in the left circle, allowing Melichar to walk in and score with 2:54 to go.






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