Penguins hold off Coyotes 2-1 for 6th straight win

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By WILL GRAVES, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Zybnek Michalek and Chris Kunitz scored three minutes apart in the first period, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 36 saves as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

The Penguins extended the NHL's longest current winning streak by holding off a late charge from the suddenly slumping Coyotes.

Ray Whitney scored 21st goal of the season, but Phoenix dropped its third straight after going unbeaten in regulation in February to surge to the top of the Pacific Division.

Mike Smith recovered after a shaky start to finish with 26 saves, but the Coyotes couldn't stop the Penguins from improving to 10-1 in their last 11 home games.

Phoenix outshot Pittsburgh 37-28 and tilted the ice on several occasions, but Fleury continued his brilliant play in winning his sixth consecutive start. He has stopped 163 of the last 168 shots he has faced. Fleury has 35 wins, one behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne for the league lead.

The Coyotes' surge in February, when they went 11-0-1, coincided with spectacular play from Smith, but his slipped in March. He was beaten by only two shots from one of the league's most potent offenses, but the Penguins are playing so well that every miscue by an opponent is magnified.

Michalek, who spent five seasons with Phoenix before coming in Pittsburgh in 2010, scored his first goal since Oct. 17 with 8:16 left in the first period. He took a drop pass from Jordan Staal and beat Smith to the stick side.

Kunitz scored his 19th goal 3:01 later with a nearly identical shot. Evgeni Malkin chipped the puck off the boards at center ice and onto Kunitz's stick. He swept in and fired a wrist shot that deflected off Smith's blocker and trickled in. Malkin's assist gave him 81 points and pushed him back atop the NHL scoring race.

Smith was perfect from there, but the damage was already done.

Phoenix peppered Fleury at times, but he did his acrobatic best to keep the Coyotes at bay. He streaked out of the net to stuff Martin Hanzal on a short-handed breakaway in the second, the flashiest save on a night when he was tested with regularity.

Fleury stayed patient, even when teammate Matt Cooke got tangled up with Smith in the second period after crashing into the net. Smith began smacking Cooke around, starting a dustup that took referees several minutes to calm.

While the crowd chanted his name, begging him to fight Smith, Fleury stayed in a crouch 150 feet away. With veteran backup Brent Johnson out because of an illness, and only rookie Brad Thiessen on the bench, Fleury understands he can't take any chances.

Fleury's only hiccup came early in the third on Whitney's 21st goal. Radim Vrbata slipped a pass from the corner to the front of the net and found Whitney, who easily slid a shot past the lunging goalie.

It was a rare misstep for Fleury, who held on in the third despite a pair of late power plays for the Coyotes.

The Penguins turned Phoenix away both times to improve to 12-2-3 against Western Conference opponents this season.

NOTES: Vrbata's assist was his 200th in the NHL. ... Pittsburgh D Kris Letang missed his second straight game due to concussion-like symptoms. The Penguins recalled Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre to fill in. ... The Penguins also scratched defenseman Deryk Engelland and forwards Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey. ... Forward Gilbert Brule and defenseman Michael Stone were scratched by the Coyotes . ... Phoenix will plays at Columbus on Tuesday. The Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes 5-2 on Saturday.

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