Six-game losing streak raises pressure on Penguins' Fleury

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Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 20 of 21 shots Wednesday night in Washington.

His performance was good enough to earn him recognition as the No. 2 star of the game, but not good enough to earn his team a point, let alone two.

The Capitals beat the Penguins, 1-0, at the Verizon Center -- Washington's Jason Chimera recorded the only goal by either team when he beat Fleury with an uncontested shot from the slot -- to give them six consecutive losses heading into their game tonight against Florida at the BankAtlantic Center.

And to reinforce the idea that, the way things have gone for the Penguins the past two weeks, a near-perfect performance by Fleury won't necessarily do his team any good in the standings.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins at Florida Panthers, 7:38 p.m. today, BankAtlantic Center.
  • TV, Radio: Root, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Scott Clemmensen for Panthers.
  • Penguins: Have won at least one road game against Panthers in each of past six seasons. ... LW Chris Kunitz has just two goals in 15 career games against Florida. ... Have outshot opponent in past eight games.
  • Panthers: Are on 9-2-2 roll at home, dating to 3-2 victory Nov. 19 against Penguins. ... Jason Garrison leads NHL defensemen with 11 goals. ... Have been outscored, 75-65, while playing 5-on-5.
  • Hidden stat: Panthers are 8-1-2 when Garrison scores a goal.

That's because the Penguins have scored just six goals in their losing streak and four in the past five games. That means Fleury's margin for error most nights approximates the thickness of a newspaper page. And on most other nights, it's considerably less.

Nonetheless, Fleury insisted that he isn't feeling any particular pressure to raise his level of play, because his objective when he reports for work -- perfection -- never changes.

"Going into every game, my goal is to not give up any goals," he said.

What separates the past few weeks from much of Fleury's career is that with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Jordan Staal unavailable because of injuries, the Penguins have lost much of their quick-strike offensive capability.

No longer can he count on his teammates to negate any mistake he might make, whether it's misjudging an angle or mishandling a puck. That simple truth, goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said, means Fleury cannot help putting additional pressure on himself to perform flawlessly.

"You know your production, offensively, is going to go down, so you know you have to keep it to almost 2-1 or 1-0 or 3-2 in most cases," Meloche said. "You add pressure, for sure."

Not, of course, that the position is ever too stress-free.

"Goalies are always under pressure," Meloche said. "It's just a little more, being down like we are."

Fleury is 19-12-2 -- he has earned all but two of the Penguins' victories -- with a 2.29 goals-against average and .912 save percentage this season.

Those numbers aren't bad, but likely will have to improve if the Penguins are going to pick up some points while they wait for some of their injured players to return. Goaltenders, after all, can be genuine difference-makers, single-handedly altering the outcome of games.

"Our goalies are going to have to steal games," Meloche said. "That's part of the business. We'll have to steal games. We'll have to win them, 1-0, 2-1."

Goaltenders don't have much reason to agonize over goals like Chimera's. That scoring chance was the byproduct of an odd-man break by the Capitals, and the shot was well-placed by a guy who has been a consistent goal-scorer this season.

That wasn't true, however, of one New York's Derek Stepan scored early in the third period of the Rangers' 3-1 victory at Consol Energy Center a week ago. It stemmed directly from a blunder by Fleury and dropped the Penguins into a two-goal hole from which they could not escape.

Fleury ventured into the right circle in an effort to beat New York's Marian Gaborik to the puck, and succeeded. Trouble is, he whiffed on his clearing attempt, and the puck ended up in the net he had vacated a few seconds later.

Fleury had a bad idea (to pass the puck across the ice) and executed it terribly, but his reaction to his mistake reflected the professional maturity he has gained as he immediately put it behind him.

"It's something I've improved on, learned," he said. "After that, I [faced] a couple of good shots and I was ready and could make the saves. Maybe before, that was something I would think about a lot.

"The game wasn't over. I had to keep it close, give our team a chance to come back."

The Penguins will be counting on Fleury to do that and a lot more in coming weeks. He doesn't seem to mind.

"We have to do our job well and make a difference in the games, give our team a chance to win," Fleury said. "Keep the game close. If we can be in the game all game long, we always have a shot [at winning]."

NOTES -- Center Evgeni Malkin , who leads the Penguins with 45 points, will be their representative in the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 29 in Ottawa. This is his fourth all-star selection. ... Left winger Steve MacIntyre cleared waivers Thursday and is scheduled to join their American Hockey League affiliate Monday in Wilkes-Barre. ... Right winger Colin McDonald was assigned Thursday to Wilkes-Barre.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at . Dave Molinari: and Twitter @molinaripg. First Published January 13, 2012 5:00 AM


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