Marc-Andre Fleury named Penguins team MVP
About the only thing Marc-Andre Fleury missed Sunday was the obvious, that he is the Penguins' most valuable player.
The truth is there wasn't another player in the running for the annual award, presented to Fleury before he stopped 37 shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center.
"I wasn't really expecting that," he said of the team MVP honor. "It's a nice reward to have. I just tried to put it aside and get two points for the game."
Earning two points - or, more precisely, willing the Penguins to two points - has been Fleury's specialty in recent games. Put more bluntly, the Penguins have scored a mere two goals in their last three games, and have won all three.
It doesn't get more valuable than that.
His name is starting to surface in conversations about even bigger prizes - the Vezina (top goalie) and Hart (MVP) Trophies.
"If he doesn't win the Vezina, he should be considered for the Hart," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
Added coach Dan Bylsma: "There's no question that he's our team MVP. He's been the backbone of our team. Starting with the Tampa Bay game (on Nov. 12), he's been outstanding all season."
Fleury's elite play has kept the Penguins within striking distance of Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead. With Sidney Crosby out since Jan. 5, Evgeni Malkin done for the season after a brief cameo Feb. 4, and newcomers Alex Kovalev and James Neal combining for only two goals since their respective arrivals, Fleury has carried the Penguins.
Since starting the season 1-6-0 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .853 save percentage, Fleury has gone on a 33-12-5 run. His goals-against over that span is 2.10, and he has amassed a .927 save percentage.
"A lot of our wins have been because of him and because of the confidence he has given our team," Bylsma said.
Fleury downplayed his recent play and being named team MVP. He becomes only the fourth goalie in team history - the last netminder to turn the trick was Michel Dion, 29 years ago - to claim team MVP honors.
"He's doing his job every night," Kovalev said.
While the Penguins' defense has been terrific most of the season, it decidedly was not against Florida. Fleury, who stopped 77 of 79 shots and 9 of 10 shootout attempts during his transcendent past week, bailed out the sloppy Penguins with sharp stops after defensive breakdowns.
He also set a Penguins record by playing 150 minutes and 14 seconds of shutout hockey before Florida's Ryan Carter scored in the second period yesterday.
"They're getting great goaltending," Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. "That's no secret."
Yet Fleury's play often is a secret because he historically has been overshadowed by the likes of Crosby and Malkin.
The last couple of months, though, have showcased Fleury's No. 1 overall-pick talent.
"This is the most consistent I've ever seen him," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's (winning team MVP) great for his confidence after the start he had when everyone wanted to run him out of town."