Pens' Staal, Fleury hopeful of making Games
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Penguins center Jordan Staal scored as many goals in the Stanley Cup Final as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered over the final two games.
The number is two, and time will soon show if those difference-making performances were enough to convince Detroit Red Wings vice president Steve Yzerman to include them on Canada's roster for the 2010 Olympics in February.
"It's not a bad thing to think about that," said Staal, who is likely among six players a member of Team Canada's management team said are "fighting for two or three spots."
"My view is that you want to give them the best opportunity," Doug Armstrong recently told the Canadian Press. "The way to do that is you have to see them on multiple occasions."
Yzerman is the general manager of Team Canada, which will arrive at Vancouver as the favorite to win that country's second Olympic gold medal in men's ice hockey since 2002. That's when a team including Yzerman and captained by Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux topped all competitors in Salt Lake City.
Yzerman, Armstrong, and Kevin Lowe have spent the past few weeks barnstorming NHL arenas for on-scene scouting. One of those men will likely attend many Penguins games through Dec. 31, when Team Canada's 23-man roster will be finalized.
Fleury, whose 31-save performance Saturday night at Columbus was his finest since a dazzling 9-1-0 start, is quietly confident he's done enough to join likely starter Martin Brodeur and host city favorite Roberto Luongo in Canada's goalie trio.
He has until the end of January to wrestle the starting job.
"It's on the back of my mind," Fleury said. "I'm trying to give myself a good shot at it. But I don't play for that. I play to win here, for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and whatever happens with the Olympics happens. But hopefully it happens."
Fleury's three signature NHL wins have come at the Red Wings' expense in the past two postseasons, including Game 6 and 7 of the 2009 Final, and a 55-save performance in a triple-overtime Game 5 victory at Detroit with the Penguins facing elimination in 2008.
He has won seven playoff series the past two springs compared to one combined by Brodeur and Luongo.
Staal is more of a long shot for a roster spot because of his age, 21, and his primary position. He is a center, a spot at which Canada is deep - so deep that 2006 league MVP Joe Thornton and multiple-time 50 goal scorer Vincent Lecavalier might not make the cut.
However, Staal's offensive awakening since the Penguins hired Dan Bylsma on Feb. 15 has perhaps altered the popular perception that he is a defensive-only pivot.
"I'm realizing that I have more time than I think and trying to take a step and go at guys to get to the net," said Staal, who has scored 13 goals and recorded 30 points in 48 games under Blysma.
Working in Staal's favor is his history as a winger. He scored a career-best 29 goals as a left wing on a line centered by Evgeni Malkin during their rookie season in 2006-07.
Yzerman, a natural center who played the wing on Canada's 2002 Olympic team, said he is unlikely to ask a center without wing experience to make that switch in Vancouver.
Another boost for Staal's candidacy is his inclusion on Canada's 2007 World Championships squad, which was selected by a general manager named ... Steve Yzerman.
Staal has five weeks to snag one of 13 forward spots. Fleury, with a spot seemingly secure, has twice that time to make a pitch to start.
Their determination to join the exclusive club that will be Team Canada should benefit the Penguins, who wrap a three-game road trip tonight at Florida.
"At a certain point, you want to do everything you can for your team, but to a point you want to try and do well personally to make that (Olympic) team," Staal said. "If you are doing well personally, you are doing well for your team and making a better case for yourself, so it's kind of a circle that way."
IN THE MIX
Only two or three spots reportedly remain open on the Canadian men's hockey roster that will compete February in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. A look at the strongest competition for Penguins center Jordan Staal:
Notable: Chicago's 21-year-old captain had scored 61 goals and registered a plus-32 rating in 161 NHL games.
Notable: Philadelphia's 24-year-old captain was a 2009 finalist for Selke Trophy, annually awarded to NHL's top defensive forward.
Position: Right wing
Notable: Gritty, 33-year-old Phoenix veteran has represented Canada at eight international competitions.
Sources: NHL.com ; Canadian Press