Thiessen enjoying a front-row seat as Fleury's backup
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Brad Thiessen was supposed to be the go-to goalie.
The guy counted on to carry his team through the stretch drive and, ideally, deep into the playoffs.
Hasn't worked out that way, though.
Not through any fault of his.
It's just that Thiessen isn't working where he was scheduled to be at this point in his career.
The plan was for Thiessen to spend 2011-12 with Wilkes-Barre in the American Hockey League, burnishing his credentials as the successor to Brent Johnson as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup with the Penguins.
- Matchup: Winnipeg Jets at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV/Radio: oot Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Brad Thiessen for Penguins. Ondrej Pavalec for Jets.
- Penguins: Are 12-1 in past 13 home games. ... Six of RW Pascal Dupuis' 20 goals have been winners. ... Have allowed one goal in past 27 short-handed situations.
- Jets: Are 11-19-4 on road, including 8-5 loss Feb. 11 at Consol Energy Center. ... LW Tanner Glass ranks among NHL leaders with 226 hits, two fewer than Penguins D Brooks Orpik. ... Have gone 10-20-5 when allowing first goal.
- Hidden stat: Jets have been assessed a league-low two bench minors this season.
But Thiessen, who turned 26 Monday, was recalled from the Baby Penguins last month after Johnson was removed from the mix, at least temporarily, by an unspecified injury.
Suddenly, he didn't have to rely on highlights shows and newspaper accounts to keep up with the parent club's effort to climb into first place in the Eastern Conference.
"I've got a front-row seat to it," Thiessen said.
He figures to get an even better look tonight, because Thiessen is expected to make his third NHL start when Winnipeg visits Consol Energy Center.
The Jets should be highly motivated -- no, downright desperate -- because they're in a three-way battle with Washington and Buffalo for the final spot in the Eastern playoff field.
Thiessen, though, hasn't looked like a guy who's easily shaken since joining the Penguins. He's 2-0, with a 2.01 goals-against average and .917 save percentage after stopping 44 of 48 shots.
Nice numbers, to be sure, but the most telling indication of how the coaching staff's confidence in Thiessen is that it plans to give him the same workload Johnson was supposed to carry, even though the Penguins have reached the time of the season when every point is precious.
"We're staying on schedule with the games we had planned," goalie coach Gilles Meloche said. "We had a couple of setbacks earlier in the year where Brent got hurt, so Marc had to play some [extra] games, but right now, the games Brad's going to play were on the schedule."
Fleury has appeared in 60 games so far. The plan going into the season was for him to start about 65, but with 11 games left in the regular season, Fleury is a good bet to surpass that target figure.
Precisely how many starts Fleury makes the rest of the way will hinge, at least in part, on where the Penguins turn up in the conference standings on a given day.
"We're going to play with the schedule at the end of the year, see where we stand and where we're going," Meloche said.
If they find themselves in a true must-win situation, Fleury will get the call. But when circumstances permit, the Penguins won't hesitate to use Thiessen.
"He has a perfect record," Meloche said, smiling. "So I have no concerns."
Thiessen, signed as a free agent out of Northeastern in 2009, was honored as the American Hockey League's top goaltender last season and was 20-14-2 with the Baby Penguins this season before being summoned to replace Johnson.
Because he has spent virtually his entire pro career in the minors, Thiessen isn't as familiar with the shooters at this level as more established goaltenders.
He tries to compensate for that by studying video with Meloche, although he's comfortable with reacting instinctively and reflexively to things playing out around him.
"We do a lot of video work before games, seeing tendencies of other teams and what they do," Thiessen said. "I can ask Marc, see if he's got any tips for me.
"Other than that, I just kind of go out there and play as it comes, like I've done the first two games."
While Thiessen tries to avoid information overload, Meloche said there are a few fundamental truths he has to keep in mind when playing in the NHL.
"He just has to expect that everything's coming in quicker," Meloche said. "At this level, everything's quicker.
"You have to be more ready on bad-angle shots. In the minors, they might not shoot. Here, if they see a hole, they'll try to hit it. Positioning is the key, and he's been pretty good at it so far."
Fact is, Thiessen's been pretty good at most things since he got here. While he's hardly a cornerstone of this team, he has looked like a nice complementary piece of the personnel puzzle.
"I'm here when they need me," he said. "I'm excited for any opportunity that I get."
• Game: Jets vs. Penguins, 7:08 p.m.
• TV: Root Sports.
First Published March 20, 2012 12:00 am