Penguins' Crosby, Fleury, Letang, Malkin voted All-Stars
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The previous time Tampa Bay visited Consol Energy Center, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went into the game with a 1-6 record, deep in the worst slump of his career and the target of widespread criticism.
The Lightning returns tonight not quite two months later, and look at Fleury now: an NHL All-Star. He is one of four Penguins among the six marquee All-Stars selected during fan balloting. The others are forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.
Game: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), http://penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Dwayne Roloson for Lightning.
Penguins: Are 9-2 vs. Southeast Division. ... Among NHL leaders with 7 short-handed goals, 4 at home. ... Kris Letang (plus-20), Sidney Crosby (plus-19) and Alex Goligoski (plus-17) among league plus-minus leaders.
Lightning: Is 7-1-2 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Had no short-handed goals on road before Tuesday. ... Had 3.03 team goals-against average, among worst in NHL.
Of note: Going into Tuesday's games, Penguins and Lightning led NHL with four penalty shot attempts each.
"Probably the one All-Star pick that pleases me the most is his, the way he's played and turned it around, and I always feel like the fans are part of that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, and he didn't just mean those who voted for his franchise goalie.
On Nov. 12 against Tampa, the fans began serenading Fleury even before the national anthem. They chanted his name and, Bylsma said, "willed a good game by Marc-Andre Fleury.
"He responded with a great game and some great hockey, some outstanding hockey, since then. He's been the backbone of our team."
Fleury is now 17-9-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Fans in Boston might think Tim Thomas (18-5-4, 1.80. .945, five shutouts) was more deserving; those in Atlanta might feel likewise about Ondrej Pavelec (14-8-4, 2.09, .936). They still have a chance when the NHL designates the rest of the All-Stars for the Jan. 30 game at Carolina.
That larger pool of players will choose two captains, who, with the help of elected alternate captains, will pick sides Jan. 28 in the manner of a fantasy draft. The league this season abandoned the East vs. West interconference format.
Fleury gushed about the role of the fans, who not only made him the third-highest vote-getter with 426,305, but also came through for him in that earlier game against Tampa -- a 5-1 win.
"When I stepped on the ice and had such great support from the fans -- all game long they were behind me -- I think it helped me out through the game, and I finally got a win, and things started to get better," Fleury said.
Crosby garnered the most All-Star votes, 635,509, followed by Letang (a write-in candidate), with 477,960; Fleury; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews, 407,676; Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, 382,162; and Malkin, 376,887.
Crosby has won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy as league MVP, an Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion and a Lester B. Pearson Award as the top player as voted by his peers, among other awards. This season, he leads the NHL with 65 points, and his 32 goals ranked first before Tuesday's games.
Yet Crosby doesn't have a goal in an All-Star Game, though he has had only one opportunity to play.
During his rookie season of 2005-06 and last season, the NHL didn't hold an All-Star Game because of the Winter Olympics. In 2007-08, he missed the game because of a high ankle sprain. In 2008-09, he sat out because of a knee injury. In his only All-Star Game appearance, in 2006-07 in Dallas, he didn't score.
Crosby would seem to be a strong candidate to be an All-Star captain. If so, will he be able to secure his three Penguins teammates for his team?
"I hope that Sid will be a captain and will pick me, [Letang] and [Fleury], and we play together," said Malkin.
He has 14 goals, 33 points in 35 games and is tied for second on the team in points with Letang, who is having a breakout season and, before Tuesday's games, ranked fourth in league scoring among defensemen.
Crosby had already thought about a Penguins posse.
"That would be great if we could all play together," he said. "That's going to be a pressure-packed situation for whoever is doing the picking."
Although the Penguins are at the mercy of the NHL in terms of other players being chosen, Bylsma has a shot at being behind the bench under another revamped policy.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland will coach one team -- decided by a coin toss -- because they are defending Stanley Cup champions. The co-coaches for the other team will be the coach from each conference with the highest points percentage through Saturday's games. The Penguins are at .663, second to Philadelphia (.679) in the East, with Tampa (.654) and Washington (.638) close behind going into Tuesday's games.
Even though the Penguins have three games between now and the end of Saturday's schedule, Bylsma hasn't used that to motivate his players, or to lobby.
"I have not mentioned one word to them," he said with a grin.
First Published January 5, 2011 12:00 am