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Fleury thrives in clutch situations

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is clearly among the NHL's elite performers, and when it comes to working overtime, he only gets better.

His evolution as a goaltender perhaps almost complete, Fleury has arguably become the NHL's most difficult man to beat in shootouts. He is perfect this season and has won 16 of his past 20 shootouts, something the Penguins have noticed.

"He's such a calming influence in those situations," center Dustin Jeffrey said. "He's just so good, so steady."

Fleury has refined his style over the years, leaning more on a sound positional approach instead of relying on his exceptional athleticism.

Of course, the athleticism that made Fleury the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is still detectable in shootouts. Jeffrey shoots against Fleury every practice and often doesn't have much success.

"He's such a tough guy to read," Jeffrey said. "You know he's quick. That's the report everyone has. He's got that quick glove, and he moves side to side so well."

Fleury's bag of tricks, however, has expanded.

Islanders center John Tavares, among the league's best scorers, found out the hard way Thursday at Consol Energy Center. With a chance to send the shootout to a fourth round, Tavares attempted to deke Fleury.

The goaltender, in one of his favorite moves, used a poke check to thwart Tavares and end the game.

"It's just another wrinkle," Jeffrey said. "It just makes him harder to deal with."

The Penguins profess complete confidence in Fleury now more than ever, and for good reason. Following last season's poor start, he has been among the game's best goaltenders. He became an MVP candidate last season and is off to a 7-2 start.

"I can barely remember when he wasn't playing like this," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "He obviously didn't have the start he wanted last year. Ever since then, he's been the best goalie I've ever seen."

Fleury has rejected all five shooters he's faced in shootouts this season, and although the Penguins have altered their overtime approach -- going conservative to force a shootout hasn't entered their minds yet -- they always know a victory is possible when a shootout begins.

"You always want to win in regulation," Lovejoy said. "But when we go to a shootout, we have so much confidence in him. We've got some shooters who have been pretty money for us. That, along with how he's playing in net, gives you that confidence."

Fleury enjoys shootout drills in practice seemingly more than anyone, often taking time to taunt shooters he has just stoned with an array of antics. He is always having fun in these drills, which perhaps translates to games.

"I am (having fun) when we win," he said. "It's different. I fool around with the guys in practice, but I see them every day. When it comes to comes, I have fun with it, but I have to stay focused and patient."

Whatever philosophy he's using is certainly working. The goalie who struggled early in his career in shootouts, much like the goalie who struggled last October, is a distant memory.

"We can take chances in overtime because we've got Flower back there," Jeffrey said. "And when it gets to the shootout, you know how good he is."

Additional Information:

Penguins game day

at MAPLE LEAFS

7 p.m. today, at Toronto, Air Canada Center

TV/radio: Root Sports/WXDX-FM (105.9), Penguins Radio Network

Last year's records: Penguins 49-25-8; Maple Leafs 37-34-11

Notable: Penguins right wing James Neal and Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel are tied for the league lead in goals with nine. Kessel leads the NHL with 16 points.

Puck stops here

Marc-Andre Fleury isn't just one of the NHL's best goalies but has also become almost unbeatable in shootouts, showing notable progression throughout his career.

Year, Record in shootouts, Saves, Goals, Shootout save percentage

2011-12, 2-0, 5, 0, 1.000

2010-11, 8-2, 38, 6, .842

2009-10, 6-2, 23, 6, .739

2008-09, 3-4, 22, 6, .727

2007-08, 1-0, 3, 0, 1.000

2006-07, 9-5, 39, 9, .769

2005-06, 0-2, 5, 4, .200

Totals, 29-15, 135, 31, .813

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