Fleury shines as Penguins blank Devils in season opener, 3-0

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None of this is new for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Not really.

After all, he had won 249 games before the Penguins' 3-0 victory against New Jersey in the regular-season opener Thursday night at Consol Energy Center and had recorded 23 shutouts.

But, at this juncture in his career, after losing his starting job during the Penguins' playoff run this past spring, Fleury needed a quality performance.

To start to convince the many fans who have come to doubt him.

To begin to persuade any teammates who might have wondered privately whether he still can be a difference-maker.

And, perhaps most of all, to remind himself just what he is capable of doing.

Which he did by stopping all 27 shots the Devils threw at him, including a penalty shot by Adam Henrique with less than four minutes to play in regulation.

"That was certainly a good start," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was excellent tonight."

Especially in the third period, when the penalty-shot save on Henrique was the sequel to a behind-the-back stop he made on Travis Zajac less than four minutes earlier.

"We probably make him work harder than he needed to, especially at the end," center Sidney Crosby said.

"But those were some beauties."

Fleury's rejection of Henrique with his right-leg pad was testimony to his anticipation and reactions; the stop on Zajac reflected how fortune broke his way at times.

Zajac's shot hit the right post, bounced off Fleury's back and was dropping toward the goal line when Fleury thrust his glove behind the back -- "I just tried to reach as quick as possible back there," he said -- and had the puck settle into it.

"That's going to be ESPN top 10, for sure," Devils right winger Jaromir Jagr said. "He was lucky, he didn't even know he did it."

Fleury, who volunteered that "I've seen shutouts broken too often" by late goals of dubious pedigree, seemed visibly relieved and satisfied with how the game played out, although his words afterward were tempered.

"I'm happy to be in there and get a win," he said. "It's a long season, though.

"This one is done, and I'm looking forward to playing the next one."

Although the Penguins were ragged at times -- heck, it occasionally looked as if they hadn't played a game that counted in months -- their only major negative was that right winger James Neal left the game in the first period because of an unspecified injury that had forced him to sit out the game-day skate.

"It's more a situation [where] we didn't want to aggravate it in the first game of the season," Bylsma said.

Losing Neal for an extended period would be a major blow to the Penguins, but they were able to overcome his absence for at least one night.

They even got a goal from blue-collar winger Craig Adams, who filled Neal's spot on Evgeni Malkin's right side at times.

Adams closed out the scoring at 11:42 of the third, taking a cross-ice feed from Malkin and beating Devils goalie Cory Schneider with a wrist shot from above the right hash mark.

"I told [Neal] after the game that I know now that when you have [Malkin] passing you the puck, it's not that hard," Adams said, with a wide smile.

Adams' goal sealed the victory, but the Penguins had been in front most of the game after getting goals from Chuck Kobasew and Crosby in the opening period.

Kobasew, signed as a free agent Wednesday, scored the winner at 9:26 as he punched a Brandon Sutter rebound past Schneider, and Crosby scored from the left circle at 12:19.

And then the spotlight shifted to Fleury, who turned aside 21 shots over the final two periods and seemed to grow visibly more confident with each stop he made.

Not, his teammates insisted, that Fleury -- or anyone else -- should be questioning what he can contribute.

"For us, it doesn't really change anything," Adams said. "We have a lot of confidence in [Fleury]. We have had.

"I've had confidence in him the whole way through. I was really happy for him because he's taken a lot of heat, but we know what kind of a goalie he is.

"I have a Stanley Cup ring, probably, because of that guy. He'll always be a great goalie to me."

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Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com. Twitter: @molinariPG. First Published October 4, 2013 1:45 AM


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