x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Marc-Andre Fleury blooms in Pittsburgh for the Penguins

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may not be a new name for the Penguins, but his star turn is. "He’s been our best player this year, by far,” the winger Pascal Dupuis told the Pittsburgh Tribune.

Marc-Andre Fleury, left, is a big reason to the Pittsburgh Penguins' success this season as they march to another play-off spot. Al Bello / AFP
Marc-Andre Fleury, left, is a big reason to the Pittsburgh Penguins' success this season as they march to another play-off spot. Al Bello / AFP

The Pittsburgh Penguins are enjoying another exciting season, with the play-offs a certainty.

That was expected with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin there to lead the way.

But Pittsburgh has another star in town – goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may not be a new name, but his star turn is.

“He’s been our best player this year, by far,” the winger Pascal Dupuis told the Pittsburgh Tribune.

Quite the compliment for Fleury in a season in which Crosby leads the league in scoring and Malkin ranks third.

Fleury, 29, has been Pittsburgh’s No 1 goaltender for nine years, but he previously was regarded more as serviceable furniture than as a team centrepiece. His career goals-against average of 2.62 and his .910 save average are more “adequate” than “stellar”.

What is worse is that Fleury has been blamed for some of the Pens’ post-season flops, since his play-offs stats have been slightly worse (2.73 and .903) than in the regular season.

The low point may have come last spring when he was replaced early in the post-season by Tomas Vokoun and Pittsburgh lost in the Eastern Conference finals.

Fleury did not waste time pouting. Nor did the Pens waste time looking for another goalie. They still saw talent in the man they chose first overall in the 2003 draft and asked him to spend some time in the summer with a sports psychologist.

They also brought in a new goalie coach, Mike Bales.

Fleury said he has benefited from all of it, including his benching.

“Tough times prepare you for stuff,” he told the Toronto Star. “It makes you a better goalie.”

It has so far.

Fleury has career-best numbers at 2.04 and .923. His 21 wins lead the league, and no one has more than his three shutouts. He also has been an iron man, posting the second-most minutes among goalies.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh have taken charge atop the East standings.

One area where Fleury has always excelled, and continues to excel, is in shoot-outs.

Last week, he stopped all five New York Rangers in the one-on-one competition as his team prevailed. That gave him his second shoot-out win of the season and kept him perfect (eight for eight) in shoot-out saves.

Among all active goalies with at least 20 shoot-outs, Fleury’s 77.3 save percentage is tops, which helps explain why the Penguins are 31-8 in shoot-outs over the past six seasons.

After the victory over the Rangers, the Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said, “Our goaltender was the best player on the ice.

“That’s the only way we got this win.”

They are getting used to hearing that in Pittsburgh.

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