PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The No. 1 draft pick was all he was supposed
to be for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a dominating performance that
gave promise this season won't be like all those bad ones gone by.
Only this time it wasn't Sidney Crosby, but goalie Marc-Andre
Fleury, the top pick in 2003 who didn't win the starting job
until the final preseason 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 --
defenseman 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 preseason in which he nearly lost his job to Jocelyn
"He played awesome," said forward Colby Armstrong, who set the
tone by holding his own in a fight with much-larger defenseman
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 16½
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
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 defenseman 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
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.
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.