PITTSBURGH — When Tanner Glass was giving Marc-Andre Fleury the shootout book on the opposition as the ice was being flooded for the skills show, you could have looked at it two ways Saturday.
The former Vancouver Canucks winger, he of the 15 career NHL goals, would either help or hurt the Pittsburgh Penguins stopper in a sensational matinee showdown. Whatever Glass said must have been sage advice. Fleury stopped Mike Santorelli, Alex Edler and Ryan Kesler on their attempts — a pair of forehand efforts and a final wait-out-the-goalie try — as an Evgeni Malkin backhand deke stood up in the third round to be the decisive move for a 4-3 Penguins triumph.
In a statement effort where the Canucks proved they can skate and compete with the elite, everything they accomplished added up to one impressive point — even though they surrendered a 3-2 lead in the third period. Just 22 seconds after Zack Kassian scored his first of the season on a deft deflection, rookie defenceman Olli Maatta jammed in a rebound for his first NHL goal. That forced Luongo to make a penalty shot glove-hand save off Brandon Sutter, who was hauled down by Chris Tanev with 1:24 remaining in regulation time, to extend the entertainment.
For Roberto Luongo, it was all too familiar. It was Malkin who scored the shootout winner in the same fashion on Oct. 6, 2011, at Rogers Arena to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory. On Saturday, Luongo got the better of Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby on their forehand attempts before Malkin scored, as the Penguins improved to 7-1-0 while the Canucks fell to 5-3-1 on the third stop of their seven-game road trip.
“The first two guys, I kind of knew their moves and they actually did it — so I was happy about that,” said Luongo. “When Malkin came down, I wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do and unfortunately I bit on the fake and he went backhand. I wish I would have been a bit more patient on that one.
“It was a good game and I thought we played well. We were sustaining pressure on those guys and threw a lot of pucks at their net. It came down to a shootout and it can go either way.”
The Canucks probably deserved a better fate. They got the secondary scoring they’ve been pining for in Alex Edler, Brad Richardson and Kassian. Their shot advantage by periods was impressive — 15-5, 28-13, 37-25, 39-28 — but losing Jordan Schroeder to a second period left leg injury hurts. When the centre fell awkwardly in a collision with Glass in front of the Pittsburgh net, it broke up some of the good chemistry he was developing with David Booth and Kassian.
The Canucks could recall Zac Dalpe, who was sent to Utica for conditioning, but are starting to look like they can call on more than Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Kesler to provide the offence. The new first line was broken up in the second period with the game tied 2-2.
“We controlled a lot of the game and did a really good job in the neutral zone as far as creating turnovers,” Canucks coach John Tortorella said of six take-aways, of which three were by Richardson. “We’re playing quick in transition and I thought we picked our spots at times in the neutral zone. We’ll build off it and take it in a pretty tough buidling. We’re beginning to play more consistently and the transition game is something we’ve really worked on in trying to gain zones. That’s coming.”
In a game featuring at least 15 potential Olympians, it was evident early that the talent-laden Penguins look for the right shot and the right play, and they hit three posts in the first period. However, it was a harmless Edler slapper from outside the blueline that caught the plastic protector below the mask of Fleury, went over his left shoulder and trickled in. But NHL scoring leader Crosby converted a Pascal Dupuis rebound after Luongo got a glove on a hot shot. Chris Kunitz then scored from the side of the net on a neat power-play feed by Malkin from behind the net to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The Canucks thought they had evened the game when Chris Higgins found the net after a failed Jannik Hansen wrap-around attempt. But Craig Adams rammed Santorelli into the post and the net came off the mooring before the puck crossed the line. Then it was Richardson, Kassian and Maatta scoring before the Malkin moment.
“We showed up from the get-go and we’ve spent a lot of games in this building where the game has been over after the first period,” said Henrik Sedin. “That was nice to see.”
But giving up that third-period lead so quickly?
“The next shift — that’s too fast,” added the Canucks captain. “We have to have a few shifts where you keep it simple and stay on the right side of people and we didn’t do that.”
But they did a lot of things right, too.