Fleury rebounds, leads Pens to shutout
TAMPA, Fla. — Marc-Andre Fleury jogged past reporters a couple of hours before the opening faceoff Friday, dishing high-fives and wearing a wide smile.
Nothing is bothering him these days. Being pulled from games never has.
Two days after being benched during a game for the first time this season, Fleury rebounded with a strong performance in a 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, stopping all 21 shots he faced.
He is 19-5-2 in the past 26 games he has played after getting pulled.
“I didn't know that my record was that good in those games,” Fleury said, still smiling following the game. “That's good, no?”
The shutout gives Fleury 26 for his career. He leads the NHL with three shutouts.
Left wing Chris Kunitz scored twice, center Brandon Sutter added a fluke goal from behind Tampa Bay's net, and center Sidney Crosby recorded three assists, pushing him past 700 career points.
While the Penguins were satisfied with their performance, especially from a defensive standpoint, they were quick to credit their goaltender.
“We played a heck of a lot better in front of him,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “But I thought Marc was extremely good. Real strong. There wasn't a ton of action, but he had to make three really quality saves. He was very good in that regard. It was a bounce-back for the team and for him.”
The Penguins were displeased with their first two periods against Toronto on Wednesday. However, they did not permit a shot on goal during the third period or overtime of the 6-5 victory and adopted a similar defensive approach against the Lightning.
“We'd be hard-pressed to win games if we play like that,” Crosby said, referring to the first two periods against Toronto. “But Flower still had to make some big saves.”
Two saves in the second period stood out.
With the Penguins ahead 1-0, Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov snuck through the defense and found himself on a breakaway. Fleury coolly made the save.
Then at the end of the second period, the Lightning earned a golden scoring opportunity on the power play when right wing Richard Panik was alone in front of Fleury.
The goaltender stood his ground and made the save.
“We definitely did play better defensively and limited the turnovers,” Sutter said. “But Flower was awesome. That save at the end of the second period, that was the big one. That was a huge save.”
The Penguins controlled play in the final 20 minutes. Sutter added a goal, and Kunitz put the game away with an empty-netter.
Fleury said he felt sharp from the game's early moments.
“I saw some shots early, which is always a good thing,” he said. “Yeah, I felt pretty good. I felt good the whole game, actually.”
Many of the Penguins took responsibility for Fleury being pulled against Toronto. Seeing their starter bounce back made Friday's win sweeter.
“Last game,” Crosby said, “we didn't help him. I think we're all able to forgive (Fleury's shaky outing against Toronto). He turned the page. He was our best player tonight.”
He often is after an off night.
On a day that started with Fleury posing for a picture with Les Binkley, the first goalie in Penguins history, he continued to pile up team records. He now has 263 career victories.
“We all know he wanted to come out and have a big game after the last one,” Sutter said. “You can't say enough about the way he played.”