Penguins players quick to defend Fleury in net

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The Penguins have been put in position to defend their goaltender before, usually after what some label a subpar playoff performance.

This time, it's different.

More than a third of the way into the 2013-14 season, Marc-Andre Fleury is 16-7-1, leading the Eastern Conference and tied for second overall in the NHL in wins going into Friday.

If he is in net tonight in Boston, it will be his 26th start in 31 games. He has been pulled from a game just once. He ranked eighth in the league in goals-against average (2.01), has three shutouts, and his .922 save percentage is better than in any full season of his career.

In the past two games, he has come up big.

In a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday against the Islanders in New York, his extended-right-leg stop on Frans Nielson on a penalty shot in the third period was a key play.

Fleury made 44 saves Thursday in a 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center. That was a season-high and three saves shy of his career best.

After that game, Sharks second-leading scorer Logan Couture suggested that Fleury's save total wasn't reflective of his performance. "He gave up a lot of rebounds, and on a lot of shots, he looked shaky," Couture said. "We weren't able to score on second chances."

San Jose's Joe Pavelski suggested that Fleury "was fighting it all night. It felt like we could have had five [goals]."

Those words didn't sit well with the Penguins, particularly Couture's assertion that Fleury was "shaky."

"I think that's kind of a stupid comment," defenseman Matt Niskanen said Friday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe. "Sure, they had a lot of chances. They didn't bury them because he competed really hard.

"I'm assuming he's talking about ones where [Fleury] is rolling around on the ice trying to make saves. Those are second opportunities that we didn't clean up. He had to make consecutive saves on several occasions. To say he looked shaky, that's just stupid."

Fleury already had done a couple of rounds of postgame interviews and was the final player in the locker room when word of Couture's comment reached him. He was taken aback some, said he felt good in the game and began rummaging through some internal snapshots from the game to see if he could think of times when he might have been mistaken for looking like he was scrambling.

Fleury had a better answer Friday for Couture and the Sharks.

"We don't see them that often. Maybe he should watch some more Eastern [Conference] hockey games and he would know that's how I play, I guess," said Fleury, who sometimes makes athletic, acrobatic saves.

"A lot of times I just want to make the save. I don't worry too much about how I do it," he said. "Maybe sometimes it looks weird.

"I don't care. Maybe [Couture] should have put it in then. What was he doing?"

Fleury stopped five shots by Couture, who had no points and missed the net on three other shots.

In the second period, Fleury made 24 saves while his teammates scored four times on 15 shots.

The Penguins saw no vulnerability in Fleury.

"We didn't feel that," center Sidney Crosby said. "I think there are times where everybody has tough nights. It didn't seem like that was a tough night for [Fleury] as far as fighting the puck.

"Maybe you have chances or you feel like you have rebounds and we were able to knock them away. Maybe he felt like that was [Fleury's fault]. That's probably part frustration, too, after a game. We've all been there.

"But as a teammate, I didn't see that at all. I didn't get that feeling."

Couture's description of Fleury struck a sour note with the Penguins in large part because they see him as a rock this season.

"Look at his numbers," Niskanen said. "Look at how many outstanding games he's had. He's given us a chance every game. He's playing really, really well.

"I don't think Couture is thinking too much when he says that."

The Penguins aren't buying the notion that Fleury's style might be interpreted as frenetic or shaky.

"Obviously, [Fleury] is very athletic," center Brandon Sutter said. "We know that he can make big saves. As his career's gone on, he's become more and more patient in his net. You can tell he's so much more calm.

"I thought he played great. He made a lot of big saves, especially around the crease and second chances. I think the turning points in the game were his saves, and that's what held it together. That's the effort we need from him every night."

Today

■ Game: Penguins @ Bruins, 7:08 p.m.

■ TV: Root Sports.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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