Fleury's struggles 'frustrating'

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Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury knows exactly what is expected of him, especially now that teammate Sidney Crosby is out again for who knows how long.

This was not it.

"Three goals again," Fleury said Tuesday night after the Penguins were bounced, 4-1, in Consol Energy Center by the Detroit Red Wings. "There have been too many three-goal games lately. That makes it tougher on the other players. They have to score more for us to win. I don't like that. I have to do better."

This was the fourth consecutive start that Fleury allowed three goals, the eighth time in nine games. He knows you can't beat the Red Wings by fishing three pucks out of your net, not when their goaltender, Jimmy Howard, is one of the best in the business. The Penguins couldn't beat the Philadelphia Flyers on the road last week when Fleury fished out three. They couldn't beat the Boston Bruins at home three nights before that.

Three losses in nine days to the top teams in the NHL don't exactly qualify as a trend. But they are disturbing to those in the Penguins room.

"It's frustrating," Fleury said. "I don't think it's a concern right now. It's still early and we know we can battle with those teams and get wins against them. But it's frustrating."

The man said it again.

"I have to do better."

Certainly, Fleury is capable. He carried the Penguins for much of last season, especially in the second half when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out with injuries. He played well enough in the first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning that the Penguins should have won. You might remember they lost Game 7, 1-0, in their building. Fleury carried the team again early this season when Crosby missed the first 20 games and Malkin missed seven of the first 10. At one point, he put together a 7-0-1 streak. Many nights, he was the best player on the ice.

That's why it wasn't unreasonable to expect Fleury to shut down the powerful Red Wings. The news broke Monday that Crosby was dealing with concussion-like symptoms again. There is no timetable for his return.

This was the night the Penguins needed Fleury to shine.

It looked as if he were going to do just that, protecting a 1-0 lead deep into the second period. But then the great Pavel Datsyuk fired a backhander through Fleury, who was screened by defenseman Brooks Orpik. It was just the third shot of the second period for the Red Wings, their 11th of the game. In the third period, Johan Franzen scored a power-play goal with a wrist shot through traffic -- big Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom was camped in front of Fleury -- to make it 2-1. Then, Dan Cleary scored on a 3-on-1 to end all suspense. Cleary finished the scoring with an empty-net goal.

"I wish I had made that save," Fleury said of the Red Wings' third goal. "I felt it go under my pad. That would have kept it, 2-1. It would have given us a better chance to come back."

Clearly, this loss bothered Fleury. The fact that he failed in his first try to get his 200th career win -- he beat the New York Islanders Saturday night for No. 199 -- seemed to be nothing more than a minor irritant. "Geez, forget about that," he fairly growled before softening and acknowledging, "That will be a very nice milestone."

Fleury will have to wait until the weekend to get it. He is expected to start on the road against Ottawa Friday night or at home against Buffalo Saturday night with backup Brent Johnson starting the other game. If No. 200 comes in one of those games, Fleury will become the fourth-youngest goaltender of the expansion era (since 1967-68) to reach the milestone. He is 27 years, 16 days old today. Only Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur and former Penguin Tom Barrasso were younger.

As nice as 200 will be, it's the wins that follow that will drive Fleury and, he hopes, carry the Penguins to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. He set a goal of 40 before the season, which would match his career-high set in 2006-07. His record is 15-7-2 with 51 games to go. Before Tuesday night, he was on pace to win 44.

"How many did Barrasso win in Pittsburgh?" Fleury asked.

When told that Barrasso's franchise record is 226 wins, Fleury grinned. He knows the truth.

He's going to have to play better to break it this season.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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