Fleury, Ward stand out among NHL goalies
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Old Guard remains a majority party among influential NHL goalies, but the two puck stoppers set to square off tonight at RBC Center represent change fans can believe in.
Or, put another way, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, the league's scoring leader during the regular season and playoffs last year, tops his list of best goalies with Columbus' Steve Mason, 21, and teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, 24.
Sidney Crosby has those guys in his mix, and he also includes Carolina's Cam Ward, 25, to go with veterans Martin Brodeur, 37, of New Jersey and Roberto Luongo, 30, of Vancouver.
"There are a lot of great goalies, and they don't have to be necessarily 10, 12 years of experience," Crosby said Tuesday as the Penguins prepped for a road-trip closing game tonight at Carolina.
Fleury (2.36) and Ward (2.86) were two of only four goalies under 30 with goals-against averages below 3.00 after four appearances before games played Tuesday.
It is no stretch to suggest they are the two best Canadian-born goalies in the league given their recent playoff accomplishments, which include Stanley Cup wins in two of the past four seasons and a playoff MVP for Ward in 2006.
"I think both goaltenders are probably more valuable to their teams than they're appreciated for," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
Fleury is in the second season of a seven-year deal that counts $5 million annually against the salary cap. Ward re-signed with Carolina in September for six years at a $6.3 million annual cap cost.
"They're all grossly underpaid," Maurice said, in only a half-kidding tone. "I don't know that any goaltender gets the proper amount of respect for what he does."
Perhaps, but few proven goalies receive less acclaim in their native countries than Fleury and Ward, neither of whom are locks to represent Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in February.
Brodeur, with a 2.93 GAA through five appearances, and Luongo, struggling with a 3.33 GAA in as many appearances, are viewed as Canada's top two goalies for the Games — even though they've combined to win just one more playoff game the past four years (25) than Fleury and Ward totaled in the 2009 playoffs (24).
Even while acknowledging their emergence as elite goalies, Ward and Fleury are hesitant to place themselves above Brodeur and Luongo.
Fleury said there are "great goalies in every (age) group," adding that "it's tough to say" how he and Ward rate.
"Those older guys aren't slowing down very quickly. Brodeur and Luongo are still today some of the best in the league," Ward said. "There is another class of young guys coming up, and you can go down that list."
That one is topped by the two in the net tonight.
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