Fleury's main goal in early camp: remove all the rust after long layoff

Penguins Preseason Opener

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Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was a bit rusty as Penguins training camp opened.

That likely is to be expected after an offseason that stretched to nearly five months, longer than the Penguins are used to, after a first-round exit in the playoffs. It was so long that Fleury was able to rest, go on safari in Africa, train and still get a little antsy for things to get rolling again.

A little rustiness is not a bad thing necessarily for Fleury, if previous years are any indication.

"Usually, I'm not that good in camp," Fleury said. "But, last year, I had one of my best training camps, and the start of the season was not good."

  • Game: Penguins vs. Red Wings, Consol Energy Center.
  • When: 7:08 p.m.
  • TV: Root.

A year ago, he struggled en route to a 1-6 start, then was pulled from a Nov. 6 game in Phoenix. The Penguins rallied to win that night in a shootout, 4-3, and Fleury rallied to finish with 36 wins, a .918 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average.

His play buoyed a Penguins club ravaged by injuries from the midpoint of the season and prompted several members of the team and staff to push for him for NHL MVP, although he was not a finalist for the Hart Trophy. It was the fourth time Fleury, 26, has reached 35 or more wins.

So coach Dan Bylsma is not overly concerned that Fleury was leaky in a camp scrimmage Saturday, adequate in the Black and Gold scrimmage Monday at Wilkes-Barre and a little sharper Tuesday in a camp scrimmage.

"I wouldn't gauge much on a first scrimmage game on day one," Bylsma said. "It didn't go really well for him. But it was noted that he's had several rusty camps, and he's had one really good camp. [After] the rusty camps, he's started better."

Fleury likely will start tonight against Detroit or Thursday night against Chicago, both home exhibition games. Bylsma said the starter in the games will play two periods and expects Fleury to play two full games over the remaining four preseason games.

Fleury is the first to admit that his timing needs work.

"A little bit. The first couple of practices it seems like pucks are coming fast," he said with a little giggle. "A little time, and I should be fine."

Time was all Fleury had during the long summer, which began in late April after the first-round loss to Tampa Bay.

"I started working out a little earlier than usual, but I still took some time to rest the body, rest the mind, do something else," Fleury said. "I started working in the gym a little earlier. On the ice, I started in early August, same time as usual. I like to rest the hips and knees."

The weeks dragged on. The Penguins had not lost in the first round since 2007 and had played into June twice since, including a Stanley Cup championship in '09.

"I was looking forward to getting started and coming back here," Fleury said. "Usually, it just seems like summer flies by so quickly, and we're back. But [this year] I was getting a little anxious to get back at it. When you just work out, you don't have the same challenge."

The extra weeks allowed Fleury to take a trip he had been anticipating for a long time. He and his fiancee spent a week and a half in South Africa, visiting the northern and southern regions of the country.

They saw Africa's Big Five -- lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos. Fleury particularly liked the big cats.

"I saw two leopard cubs eating an impala, and lions eating a hippo," he said. "They're right there in front of you. It's not like in the zoo. It was the best trip I've done."

He has followed that with, so far, perhaps not the best training camp he has had, but precedent suggests that is not a cause for alarm.

NOTES -- Winger Steve Sullivan was pulled from the Black and Gold scrimmage Monday and did not skate Tuesday. He said that was precautionary because of a slight groin problem. ... Also not skating Tuesday were forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (unspecified). ... Bylsma said he does not expect anyone to play in both games on back-to-back nights. ... Bylsma said that beyond his top four defensemen -- Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Michalek, there is competition for spots five through eight.

For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly


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