Ron Cook: Penguins goalie Fleury finds boost of confidence in win
February 9, 2016 12:01 AM
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury checks for blood after having his mask knocked off in the third period against the Anaheim Ducks at Consol Energy Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was just one of 21 wins this season for Marc-Andre Fleury, one of 343 in his long career as Penguins goaltender. But, somehow, this one felt a little more important than most. Fleury needed it. The Penguins needed it from him.
Fleury has been the team’s MVP all season, but his previous two starts went poorly. He gave up five goals on 23 shots against Ottawa in the first game a week ago, yet escaped with a 6-5 win. He gave up four goals on 14 shots against Tampa Bay in the second game Friday night before being benched for Jeff Zatfoff in a 6-3 loss.
That made the Penguins’ 6-2 win against Anaheim Monday night a little more satisfying for Fleury. It turns out even franchise goaltenders need a little confidence boost at times.
“For sure,” Fleury said. “I felt better tonight. Tracking pucks and seeing the puck and reacting better on shots. Reading plays better and reading the release better ...
“I wasn’t panicking. But it was frustrating. The last few were not to my expectations. They were the first games after the [All-Star] break, but I expect myself to do better. I want to win. I want to be good for my teammates. I was happy tonight went better.”
It’s hard to blame Fleury for either of the Anaheim goals. The first came on a breakaway by Ryan Getzlaf in the final minute of the first period after Getzlaf picked Kris Letang clean at the red line. That cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1. The second goal by Patrick Maroon came off a two-on-one with 1:06 left in the second period after a giveaway by Trevor Daley. That made it, 4-2, and clearly left Penguins coach Mike Sullivan miffed about turnovers leading to goals late in a period. He held up two fingers and, reading lips, said with considerable disgust, “That’s two.”
But Sullivan exonerated Fleury.
“I thought he responded well. I thought he made some timely saves for us. The goals they scored were good goals. They were high-quality chances. I think our team gets a certain confidence level when he plays that way. He has a calming effect on the group.”
No one on the Penguins believes more in Fleury than the captain, Sidney Crosby, who was the star of the game with two more goals and two assists.
“Marc always bounces back,” Crosby said. “That’s never a worry with us. As players, we have a couple of tough games and nobody even asks us about it. But as a goalie, everyone is going to notice it right away. He handles it so well. He’s been through so much. At the same time, it’s not easy. He just comes in every day with the same attitude no matter what happens. He works. He gets great results because of it.”
Fleury made the 4-2 lead stand up in the third period, stopping 12 shots to finish with 36 saves. He did have a frightening moment, though. The Ducks’ Corey Perry went hard to the net in the first minute of the period and was driven into Fleury by Patric Hornqvist. Perry’s stick struck Fleury’s mask and sent it flying.
“It came up under and hit me in the teeth and the nose a little bit,” Fleury said. “I have two fake teeth in the front so I was little worried about them. But they’re fine. Just a little sting, but it goes away. It happens, I guess. Nothing to cry about.”
The guess here is Anaheim goaltender John Gibson, a Whitehall native, gladly would have traded places with Fleury, red nose and all. Gibson, who played in the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 31, allowed six goals before being benched with 13:13 left in the game. It was his second consecutive start in Pittsburgh that the Penguins scored six goals against him. They beat him, 6-4, in the opening game last season. Crosby had two goals that night, as well.
Consol Energy Center can’t be Gibson’s favorite building.
“I don’t know John. I just know he’s from Pittsburgh,” Fleury said. “You want to do well when you play at home. Your family is there. Your friends are there. You want to do so well. Sometimes, you try to do too much. I know it took me a few years to play in Montreal and actually be comfortable and relaxed …
“He’s a good goalie. I like him a lot. He’ll have a good career.”
A big key is bouncing back after a rough game.
Fleury, an old veteran at 31, can teach Gibson, a young kid at 22, a thing or two about that.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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