A week ago, there was some doubt about whether Marc-Andre Fleury would start the hockey season with the Penguins or in the minor leagues.
Fleury, the top pick of the 2003 draft, did a convincing job over the past several days of the preseason -- enough to not only stick on the roster but also get a strong endorsement from his coach on the day the team pared its roster to the NHL limit of 23.
"I've got a lot of confidence in that kid," Michel Therrien said yesterday of Fleury. "During the training camp, he was not quite sharp, but the last week he was really solid. He played a solid game in Buffalo [Saturday], and we could tell in practice that he's focused and his confidence seems to be there.
"So he's going to be our starting goalie for opening night."
The Penguins open Thursday at home against Philadelphia.
Also surviving the cuts were 2006 first-round draft pick Jordan Staal and rookie defenseman Kris Letang, who both signed contracts before the 5 p.m. deadline yesterday, making them eligible to start the season in the NHL.
Fleury, 21, is one of three goaltenders on the roster, at least for now. He was relieved after Therrien pulled him aside and broke the news after practice.
"I'm just real happy to get a chance to start," Fleury said. "I'll be more relaxed a little bit now, not worried about other stuff."
Fleury played in 50 games last season, his NHL high. He had a 13-27-6 record with a 3.25 goals-against average. In three preseason games, he was 0-3 with a 3.96 GAA.
The Penguins also retained veteran Jocelyn Thibault and rookie Dany Sabourin, although the logistics of getting playing time for three goaltenders is difficult. Both would have to clear waivers to be sent to Wilkes-Barre, but it's possible the team will make a move to get down to two goaltenders.
"I've been through this before," said Thibault, who played 28 games for Quebec as a rookie in 1993-94 in a three-way rotation. "We'll find a way to get work and do what we have to do."
Sabourin, 25, has appeared in just one NHL game.
"My goal was to stay here, and so far I'm still here," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm pretty happy with the situation."
"It hasn't sunk in yet, but, come the first game, I'm sure it will hit me hard," said Staal, who got the maximum rookie salary of $850,000 plus incentives. Letang, a second-round pick in 2005, got slightly less than Staal.
Although training camp has ended, the tryout continues for Staal and Letang, who can be returned to their junior teams up until the Penguins play nine games.
"Obviously, there's going to be a decision come game 10 and, obviously, how I play will tell whether I get an opportunity here or not," said Staal, who turned 18 last month.
"We'll just have to wait and see, but they've been very fair to me this year, given me a lot of opportunity to play and at different positions."
Staal has played all three forward spots and on special teams and appeared in six of the Penguins' seven preseason games, the most of anyone on the team. He had one assist.
Letang had one goal, three assists in four preseason games.
"Those are young kids that give us some depth," Therrien said. "They're ready to play in the NHL right now. They had a good camp.
"Staal, he understands he's going to be behind [centers Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin, but he showed us during camp that he's able to play at left winger, sometimes at right winger. He's a guy who could step in anytime on the top two lines or top three lines."
Those cut were defenseman Noah Welch and forwards Daniel Carcillo, Libor Pivko, Ryan Stone and Maxime Talbot. All were sent to Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League.
That left the roster at 25, two over the NHL limit, but winger Ronald Petrovicky (hip) and defenseman Eric Cairns (knee) will start the season on injured reserve. Besides the three goaltenders, there are 14 forwards and eight defensemen.
Malkin, recovering from a dislocated left shoulder, was not put on injured reserve. He skated with the team for the last 20 minutes of practice, but Therrien said he doubts the rookie center will be ready to play Thursday.
"He's getting better," Therrien said. "He's got to get back in shape, and his shoulder's got to get stronger. But we want to be really cautious regarding his injury."
Among the cuts, Welch was probably the biggest surprise. The hulking former Harvard player earned strong reviews in his five games with the Penguins last season but did not have a particularly strong training camp.
"He's close," Therrien said. "He's a young defenseman who needs to work on his consistency, but there's no doubt for us that he is a guy we count on for the future."
Like Welch, Carcillo, Stone and Talbot spent all or much of last season at Wilkes-Barre. Pivko, though, who was acquired in a trade over the summer, could eventually wind up back in Europe.
NOTES -- The team practiced early, then headed to its annual Summer Sticks Classic golf outing. ... FSN Pittsburgh will run a package of Penguins shows tomorrow night beginning at 7 p.m. that includes a season preview, "In My Own Words" featuring Mario Lemieux, "Under the Lights: Sidney Crosby," and "In My Own Words" featuring Crosby. ... Tickets remain for the opener Thursday and the home game Saturday against Detroit.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
No. 1 draft pick Jordan Staal wins berth on Penguins' season-opening roster as team pares roster to 23.
Click photo for larger image.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.