Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on Senators forward Nick Foligno in the second period of Friday's game at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marc-Andre Fleury's play during the early weeks of this season earned decidedly mixed reviews.
Some critics thought his work was awful and were convinced his penchant for allowing soft goals was going to sabotage the Penguins' season.
The rest weren't nearly as kind.
Fleury's performance dominated discussion after almost every game back then, and in that regard, not much has changed.
But in some others, everything has.
Fleury still has a prominent place in nearly all postgame conversations, but it's almost impossible to find anyone who will -- or should -- utter a harsh syllable about his work, because he's making a habit of following up outstanding performances with even better ones.
Game: Penguins vs. Calgary Flames, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: ESPN3.com, KDKA-FM (93.7), Penguins vs. Calgary Flames, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center .
Probable goaltenders:Brent Johnson for Penguins. Miikka Kiprusoff for Flames.
Penguins: Are 6-1-1 vs. Flames dating to 2000-01. ... Are 4-0 in second game of back-to-backs. ... Sidney Crosby has 11-game scoring streak -- 9 goals, 13 assists.
Flames: Have 1 win, 7 ties all time vs. Penguins in OT. ... Have scored just four goals over past three games. ... Jay Bouwmeester has longest active games streak, 446.
Of note: Penguins are 3-2-1 vs. Western Conference; Calgary is 1-3 vs. the East.
Witness the sequel to his 30-save shutout Wednesday night in Buffalo, a 43-stop showing in a 2-1 victory Friday against Ottawa at Consol Energy Center.
"When he's playing the way he's playing," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said, "he's as good as anyone in the league."
There were times Friday when Fleury had to be at his best. Like when the Senators -- who had not generated more than 20 shots in any of their previous three games -- launched 21 at him in the opening period.
"We were a little sloppy," defenseman Alex Goligoski said.
Even so, the Senators were able to get just one puck by Fleury -- Jesse Winchester beat him from the edge of the crease at 12:11 -- and he came through with perhaps his most spectacular stop of the season when he gloved Chris Kelly's shot from the inner edge of the right circle at 11:53.
"I'm going to remember that one for a little bit," Fleury said.
So will the 18,299 who paid to see it.
The Penguins, betrayed so often by their power play earlier in the season, generated both of their goals with the extra man, scoring on two of four chances.
Evgeni Malkin got the first, swatting a rebound past Senators goalie Pascal Leclaire -- who was only a shade less brilliant than Fleury -- from inside the right circle at 10:19 of the second. Sidney Crosby received an assist to stretch his scoring streak to 11 games, matching the longest in the NHL this season.
The other -- almost as controversial as it was decisive -- belonged to Goligoski, who beat Leclaire with a rising wrist shot from inside the left circle to break a 1-1 tie at 5:09 of the third.
The dispute was not about the validity of Goligoski's goal, but of the circumstances that led to it.
Kelly was assessed a double-minor for the rare combination of hooking and holding infractions at 2:47 of the third -- "[The referee] just said it was two separate calls," Senators coach Cory Clouston said -- and, seconds before Goligoski scored, Ottawa penalty-killer Mike Fisher suffered a collision with Mark Letestu of the Penguins.
"He cut right in front of me," Fisher said. "[Goligoski] was my man. I tried to get to him."
The Senators felt it was an obvious interference penalty on Letestu; the officials pleaded ignorance.
"I think that's why they have two refs out there, to see stuff like that," Ottawa defenseman Eric Karlsson said. "We get two penalties on the same guy on the same shift. I've never seen it before.
There were no such issues during the Senators' three power plays. No goals, either, because the Penguins haven't allowed one in their past 25 short-handed situations.
"Special teams did well," Martin said.
So did their goaltender. Again.
Fleury has been the Penguins' go-to guy throughout their 7-0-1 surge (although backup Brent Johnson is expected to play against Calgary today), and the only question about him these days is whether he'll somehow find a way to top himself.
Which he has, with remarkable regularity.
"He's been unbelievable the last few games," Goligoski said. "It's good to see."