Video: Phaneuf levels Hornqvist, Malkin tries to fight


Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf delivered a crushing hit to Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist late in tonight’s game that Evgeni Malkin took exception to. Malkin tried to fight Phaneuf over the incident, but the officials intervened before it escalated.

Malkin received a double-minor for roughing Phaneuf while the Leafs blueliner got a two-minute penalty for his exchange with Malkin. Phaneuf wasn’t penalized for his hit on Hornqvist.

It’s worth noting that if it had been ruled as a fight, then Malkin might have been seen as the instigator, which would have resulted in an automatic one-game suspension pending a review because the incident occurred in the last five minutes of the game, per Rule 46.22.

That’s not the only big hit that Phaneuf delivered as he also sent Pascal Dupuis to the ice earlier in the contest:

It didn’t save Toronto though as Pittsburgh earned a 2-1 victory.

Bernier’s strong effort can’t save Leafs vs. Penguins

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Jonathan Bernier kicked out 39 of 41 shots tonight, but that wasn’t enough for the Maple Leafs as Pittsburgh still ended up earning a 2-1 win.

Bernier deserves credit for more than just the quantity of saves he made tonight. He had to make some big stops with perhaps the best example coming late in the second period when he squashed Evgeni Malkin’s golden opportunity:

Malkin was ultimately held off the scoresheet, but Pascal Dupuis found a way to best Bernier twice. Of course, being reunited with his old linemate, Sidney Crosby, helped.

Toronto defenseman Cody Franson scored at 6:31 of the third period to extend his point streak to five games and make things interesting, but it proved to be too little, too late.

The Maple Leafs’ three-game winning streak has come to an end while Pittsburgh has now won eight of its last nine contests.

What they’re saying about the Fleury extension


The Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year, $23 million contract extension was met with mixed opinions.

There are reasons why Pittsburgh made this move. He’s had some solid campaigns, won a Stanley Cup, and the Penguins’ options weren’t appealing given the relatively weak projected free agent goaltending market in 2015 and the lack of appealing alternatives within the Penguins’ system. At the same time, he has struggled mightily in some of the Penguins’ playoff runs, which has led to some people to question his ability to consistently stand tall under pressure.

Dave Lozo argued the latter stance when he broke down the deal for the Bleacher Report:

The best thing anyone can say about Fleury at this stage of his career is that he has been average at his profession during the regular season for a very long time, but really, he’s been below average in recent years, even with his .931 save percentage in 12 games this season.

The real insanity, where it appears in its truest form, is the decision to invest four more years in Fleury despite his comically bad postseasons since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. It’s as if general manager Jim Rutherford is still bitter about the Penguins knocking his Hurricanes out of the conference finals on the way to that Stanley Cup and is now actively sabotaging the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Fleury has gotten off to a strong start this season with a 1.89 GAA and .931 save percentage in nine games, but given all that’s come before it, the Sporting News‘ Sean Gentille isn’t willing to assume that he’s embarked on a career year:

The worst-case scenario for Pittsburgh is that they’ve hitched their wagon to a goalie who can’t be relied upon to put together a complete, consistent, truly above-average season (he’s finished one of his 10 above .918) or avoid self-destructing in May. The feeling that they’ve done just that is also based on years of evidence, and if that’s the guy they just bought for five more years, no amount of equivocating is going to make the decision a smart one.

Not everyone has been critical of the Penguins’ decision to re-sign Fleury though. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun thinks inking him eliminates what could have been a big distraction hanging over Pittsburgh’s heads late into the season or playoffs. His colleague Scott Burnside also seemed okay with the move:

For me, it’s a simple question of what was the alternative? Let’s say the Pens moved Fleury in the offseason or at some point during this season because they wanted something different next spring. Who’s better? Ilya Bryzgalov? Nope. Martin Brodeur? Nope. Tomas Vokoun? He was terrific for the Pens in 2013 but, with his health issues, he’s not a real option long-term and maybe not even short-term.

Let’s say the San Jose Sharks and the Pens swapped netminders with Antti Niemi coming to Pittsburgh, how is that an upgrade even though both Niemi and Fleury have won Cups and are off to terrific starts this season? And let’s not forget that Fleury could hardly be blamed for the Pens’ collapse against the New York Rangers in the second round of last spring’s playoffs when they let a 3-1 series lead slip away, scoring just three times in the last three games. If the Penguins win another Cup in June, or even if they go to a final or a conference final, this deal will look fine. If Fleury reverts to the form he showed from 2010-13, well, that’ll be an entirely different story, and the pressure from ownership to make use of that limited no-trade clause will be significant.

Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir took a similar stance:

Would the Pens have preferred an upgrade between the pipes? I have no doubt. But the Rangers aren’t dealing Henrik Lundqvist. The Habs are holding on to Carey Price. Jonathan Quick will have grandkids before he leaves Los Angeles.

With Antti Niemi and Viktor Fasth headlining the Class of 2015 and Cam Ward and Jonas Hiller the top names in 2016, there was no help on the horizon via free agency.

Ultimately, it will be a while before we can say with any degree of certainty whether this deal will be to Pittsburgh’s benefit. Fleury is a gamble given his history, but perhaps he’s one that will pay off over the life of his new contract.

Red hot Fleury sends Sabres further into abyss


It’s not really fair. The Buffalo Sabres have trouble scoring under normal circumstances and tonight they had to face a hot goaltender. The result was a 5-0 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Marc-Andre Fleury collected his third shutout in four games, although the Sabres only managed 18 shots on goal. Buffalo has now been shutout five times in just 12 contests. They’ve gone 0-1-1 since Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers claimed that they hit “rock bottom.”

Chris Kunitz had a big night with two goals and an assist, including one of the Penguins’ three power-play markers tonight.

Sidney Crosby also picked up three assists, giving him 18 points in 10 contests. To put that into context: Crosby has more points this season than Buffalo has goals. The same could be said for Evgeni Malkin (15 points), Patric Hornqvist (14), or Kunitz (13) as the Sabres have only scored 12 times this season.

Video: Malkin and Williams wrestle


Its not often you see a pair of Conn Smythe winners go after one another, but such was the case Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

With the Penguins up 2-0, Evgeni Malkin went after the Kings’ Justin Williams. Its’ hard to call this one a fight since Malkin never dropped his gloves.

Both players received roughing minors.

Malkin had a milestone night, setting up Chris Kunitz’s game-wwinner in the first period for his 400th career assist.

Kunitz added his second of the night in the third period while Kris Letang had the other in the Penguins 3-0 win over the Kings.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 36 shots for his 29th career shutout.