Joe Starkey: Crosby, Fleury have perseverance in common
February 17, 2017 12:00 AM
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can't stop a shot by Jets Patrik Laine for a goal in the second period at PPG Paints Arena, a game won by the Penguins in overtime.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby displays the puck he gained his 1000th career point in the first period against the Jets Thursday, Feb. 16, at PPG Paints Arena.
By Joe Starkey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This was one of those save-the-ticket-stub nights. An evening to remember. Maybe for two very different reasons.
First, Sidney Crosby turned a crappy anniversary into a happy one when he notched the 1,000th point of his illustrious career 6:28 into the first period of what would turn into a chippy, 4-3 win.
It was classic Sid, winning a short-burst puck battle in the high slot and slipping a perfect feed to old buddy Chris Kunitz.
The crowd of 18,638 nearly blew the roof off the place.
“You really try to soak in moments like that,” said Crosby, who scored the winning goal in overtime on a crazy sick feed from Evgeni Malkin.
It was 13 years to the night that the Penguins set an NHL record with their 12th consecutive home loss — an 8-4 drubbing by the Toronto Maple Leafs before a crowd of 10,527 at Mellon Arena. So you might say a few things changed, thanks in no small part to Crosby, Malkin and another franchise building block: goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury — the other guy who was soaking in some serious moments.
It might have been the final home start of Fleury’s Penguins career. The club has one more game at PPG Paints Arena (Sunday against Detroit) and the outdoor game at Heinz Field before the March 1 trade deadline.
If indeed this was a last call, it couldn’t have been more reflective of Fleury’s mercurial Penguins tenure. One minute he was making ridiculous saves — like the windmill pad stop from his side on Mark Scheifele late in the second period — the next he was misplaying a puck to the corner and allowing a weird goal.
And typical of Fleury, he wound up winning in the end, stopping 44 shots, or two fewer than in his NHL debut against the Los Angeles Kings on a long-ago October night.
That makes 372 wins for Fleury, 221 of which have come at home, where the fans have always had his back. Except when they haven’t.
Thursday night, they did, and Fleury appreciated it. He was asked afterward if his uncertain predicament made those “Flurr-eee!” chants extra special. He took a deep breath before answering.
“The support here is always amazing,” he said. “It was nice to hear them chant my name again.”
Of his immediate future, he said, “You don’t know what’s coming.”
He added that he “tried not to” reflect too much during the game. He couldn’t help but indulge for a moment afterward, though.
“I tried to enjoy it,” he said. “It was nice. It was a good feeling. Hopefully, there’s many more.”
I’d recommend keeping Fleury for insurance purposes. He has proven he can still play when given stretches of games. He can still make saves like one on Nikolaj Ehlers’ slow-motion breakaway in overtime, too. But I’d call it no better than a 50/50 proposition that he is here on March 2 — and you know it’s killing him to sit so much.
His teammates feel his pain. Remember last year when Ben Lovejoy said Jeff Zatkoff was “the best teammate anybody in here ever had?” Fleury is in that conversation.
“Every hockey player, every professional hockey player, loves the competition of playing, especially him with how competitive he is,” said defenseman Ian Cole. “So, it’s miserable to not play. It sucks. It’s the worst feeling to watch your teammates get ready to play a game knowing you’re not going to participate. Enough can’t be said for how he’s handled it, for how mature he’s been through the whole thing.
“It’s a very, very tough situation. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or seen anyone handling it better.”
The plaudits were flying in Crosby’s direction, too. Earlier in the day, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice paid him the highest of compliments. From afar, Maurice has witnessed Crosby’s ascent to superstardom, descent into the horrors of head injuries and slow climb back to the top of the mountain.
“Even when he was banged up, he was an elite player in terms of being a top 10 guy,” Maurice said. “But to get back to being the primary guy in the National Hockey League? I think it must have taken a lot of commitment and a lot of dedication and love of the game.
“You listen to him talk, you can flip over and listen to Gretzky talk [similarly]. The legends, they have that same presence, that same care of the game.”
Crosby has 1,002 points, too, with plenty more in store. Fleury’s immediate future is less certain. For all we know, he has several more starts in his Penguins future.
But I’d save the ticket stub, just in case.
Joe Starkey: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @joestarkey1. Joe Starkey can be heard on the “Starkey and Mueller” show weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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