Before the start of an optional Penguins practice Thursday, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury spent a playful half-hour or so on the ice in sweats and no pads. He skated up and down, using a forward's stick to shoot pucks -- sometimes getting fancy and pulling the puck between his skates.
Teased later that perhaps he wanted to fill in for injured center Sidney Crosby with wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, Fleury laughed and joked that while that might be fun, he didn't think he was quite good enough on faceoffs.
As things turned out Friday night, it was a lot better having Fleury between the pipes and newcomer Jussi Jokinen between Kunitz and Dupuis. Jokinen scored the Penguins' regulation goal and the only shootout goal in a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers.
And Fleury? He made a season-high 34 saves through regulation and overtime and stopped all three New York players in the shootout to give him a share of the NHL lead with 19 wins. He has won his past 12 decisions at Consol Energy Center.
That would put Fleury on pace for the 40 wins he covets if this were a typical season rather than one shortened to 48 games because of the lockout.
"That's my goal, to go for 40 every year," said Fleury who had 40 in 2006-07 and 42 last season.
"But it's a short season. Just go with the flow. The team's been playing awesome. It's fun to be in net for these wins."
That flow has been lessened a bit by the Penguins, who brought in Tomas Vokoun to serve as Fleury's backup and allow Fleury to have a reduced workload so he might be fresher in the playoffs after back-to-back first-round exits.
"We're not giving him as heavy a load as we were before," Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. "I really believe it's going to pay in the long run.
"We're on schedule with the plans we had before the season. Tomas has been playing really well, which makes it easier to stick with it. Hopefully, it will keep going until the end of the year and [Fleury] is fresher when the playoffs start."
All the Penguins are getting extra rest this weekend. There is no game until Tuesday at Carolina, so coach Dan Bylsma gave the team the day off from practice Saturday and today.
The postseason begins in three weeks, but games such as the one Friday already have a playoff feel. The Penguins are trying to lock up the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, while the Rangers are trying to solidify a playoff berth.
"It was a hard-fought game, tight, a good game defensively on both sides," Fleury said.
There could be more such games against desperate teams that could mimic the playoffs before the playoffs actually get here. That's OK with Fleury.
"It's always good practice," he said. "You can gain experience from it."
Fleury is 19-6-0. Some of his numbers don't rank as highly in the league as his win total, at least in part because the Penguins have gone through stretches where they did not play outstanding defensive.
His .918 save percentage ranked 15th before Saturday, and his 2.28 goals-against average was 14th, although it was better than his career best for a season of 2.32 in 2010-11.
The year the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, 2008-09, Fleury was 35-18-7 in the regular season with a .912 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average. He played in 62 games that season, fewer than the 67 appearances he made in the seasons when he reached 40 wins. He has made 27 appearances this season with nine games left.
The fact that the season did not start until the third week of January also could help Fleury's energy level at playoff time.
Coming into the season, he wasn't sure whether he liked the Penguins' new "rested-and-tested" plan for him.
"Yes and no," he said. "I haven't been in that situation much. But I think it's been going well for the team. That's what matters."
What certainly isn't in the Penguins' plan is having Fleury take big risks. He did that Friday when Rangers center Brian Boyle, aiming for the puck, knocked Fleury's glove -- which he used to make several strong saves -- off of his left hand and behind the net.
"I've lost my glove before, but [this time] the play kept going," Fleury said.
He assumed his usual stance with his unprotected hand poking out of his jersey sleeve as if ready to catch the puck. Derek Stepan took a shot, but Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland blocked it, and play moved to the Rangers' end.
"I was a little worried when he didn't have a glove," Meloche said. "He could have had a couple fingers missing."
That could have been a nightmare for the Penguins and their franchise goaltender, who was the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft.
At 28, Fleury already holds franchise records for wins (245) and shutouts (23). The downside of his longevity is that his 149 losses are approaching the club record of 153 held by Tom Barrasso.
By getting more rest, Fleury has racked up more than three times as many wins as losses this season.
"Personally, I feel good," he said.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly First Published April 7, 2013 4:00 AM