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Teen goalie stymies Hawks
No matter how it's analyzed, the Blackhawks faced a team Thursday night that, putting it mildly, had some issues defensively.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were second to last in the league in goals-against average, they were fourth from the bottom in goals allowed, they allowed more than 32 shots in each of their first eight games and more than two goals in six of the eight.
Plus, they were playing the second of back-to-back games on the road with an an 18-year-old goaltender playing back-to-back for the first time in his NHL career.
But the Hawks made this defense look like a collection of Norris Trophy candidates and Marc-Andre Fleury a reincarnation of Jacques Plante in Pittsburgh's 1-0 victory before 15,121 at the United Center.
The shutout was the first of what should be many for Fleury in his NHL career but few may come as easily.
"He didn't have to be spectacular," winger Steve Sullivan said.
The lone goal of the game was spectacular, though. Rookie Konstantin Koltsov undressed Hawks center Brett McLean on the goal line, then fired a backhander past Michael Leighton on the short side at the 4-minute-21-second mark of the second period.
Mario Lemieux, in possibly his final game at the United Center, earned an assist to give him 62 points in 27 games against the Hawks in his brilliant career.
The victory was the second in the NHL coaching career of former Hawk Ed Olczyk, but few will be any sweeter.
"It's always great to come home," the native Chicagoan said. "I think we caught [the Hawks] on a good night, coming off a long road trip."
Perhaps, but before Thursday the Penguins had allowed more than 10 shots on goal in all but two periods this season. In the first period, the Hawks managed six shots. In the second, seven. In the third, seven.
Hawks coach Brian Sutter often says that shots on goal is an overrated statistic, but until goals result from other means, it must carry some weight.
"We missed the net on way too many opportunities," Sutter said. "We still had the opportunities, we have to put them away."
Fleury, the rookie sensation taken first overall in last June's draft, must have been wondering when the game was going to start. In his first five professional games, Fleury faced 191 shots, an average of around 38 a game.
Of the 20 shots the Hawks had Thursday, six came in the final three minutes. The Hawks had two shots on goal in the first 16 minutes of the third period, despite having two power plays that featured more icingsonethan shotszero.
Just 13 of their 20 shots came from forwards.
"We were just trying to make too many plays," Sullivan said. "We didn't get enough pucks to the net."
In four games totaling 212 minutes, the Hawks have scored a total of two goals for Leighton.
"It's a little frustrating," he said. "I thought we played well enough to win. [Pittsburgh] didn't make too many mistakes."