Lemieux’s 1,697th career point was negated by Francis’ 1,759th as two of the top six scorers in NHL history provided most of the offense in a 1-1 tie between the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Lemieux’s shot off the post set up Pittsburgh’s only goal as he closed within three points of becoming only the sixth 1,700-point scorer in NHL history. But a goal by the No. 5 scorer in league history, Francis, gave Carolina the tie.
Carolina (0-2-3) has gotten a point in three of its five games, yet remains the NHL’s only winless team. The 1987-88 Hartford Whalers (0-5) are the only other team in franchise history to be winless through five games.
Fleury turned aside 35 of 36 shots in another excellent performance by the No. 1 draft pick, but a rookie-like mistake by the 18-year-old goalie allowed Francis to score the tying goal and cost the Penguins (1-2-2) a second straight victory.
Fleury left the net midway through the second period to play a loose puck in the right circle, only to become entangled with Hurricanes right wing Radim Vrbata.
Francis scooped up the puck and was stopped initially as Fleury and defenseman Josef Melichar sprawled at the lower edge of the circle, but gathered his own rebound and lifted it into the empty net for his 537th career goal.
“I thought (Vrbata) did a real good job there … I knew the net was open, but he (Fleury) made a save with his skate and I said, `You’ve got to be kidding me,”’ said Francis, who starred with Lemieux on the Penguins’ two Stanley Cup champion teams. “But I was able to get my stick on it again.”
Penguins rookie coach Eddie Olczyk called it a learning experience for a goalie playing only his third career game.
“Again, it’s experience,” Olczyk said. “He works on it all the time … and he’ll keep working on it.”
Fleury initially was uncertain what to do.
“I saw Ron Francis back there … but I was trying to give a break to my d-man,” Fleury said. “I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, then I figured, `Why not?”’
Francis was impressed by the Penguins’ first No. 1 pick since Lemieux in 1984, saying, “I saw him play his first game against Los Angeles on TV, and he was outstanding. He certainly has a bright future.”
It was the first goal of the season for either Francis or Jeff O’Neill, Carolina’s top two scorers last season.
“We’re playing well and not giving up a lot, but the frustrating part is not winning,” Francis said.
In a matchup of the league’s lowest-scoring teams, both were predictably poor on the power play. Pittsburgh went 1-for-7 and couldn’t convert despite having a man advantage for the first 1:52 of the five-minute overtime. Carolina went 0-for-4 and is 1-of-23 for the season.
“The way Fleury played for us, if we had scored on the power play, we would have won the game,” said Aleksey Morozov, who scored his second goal of the season.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead with only nine seconds left in the first period on their first power play of the night. Dick Tarnstrom’s long shot from the point deflected to Lemieux, whose shot across the crease ricocheted off the right post. Morozov put the rebound past Kevin Weekes, who stopped the other 22 shots he faced.
After that, the Penguins’ power play was so ineffective that Pittsburgh actually had more power plays (4) in the second period than shots (3). With a chance to build on the 1-0 lead, the Penguins didn’t get off a single shot ontheir first two man-advantage situations in the period.
The No. 1 (Fleury) and No. 2 picks (Carolina center Eric Staal) in the June draft were on the ice, though Staal’s ice time has dropped considerably since the season opener. Fleury’s best save may have been an off balance, one-handed stop on Staal midway through the third period. … The crowd of 10,425 was the Penguins’ smallest at home in the last two seasons. Their smallest last season was 11,640 against Washington on Dec. 3. … The Hurricanes have only seven goals in five games; the Penguins have only nine goals in five games. … Carolina is 5-1-1 in Pittsburgh the last three seasons. … Fleury has stopped 112 of 117 shots in his first three careergames, all at home. He has been voted the No. 1 star twice.