Goaltender Fleury steadies Penguins' lineup
Inconsistency once prevented the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury from becoming an elite goalie.
Things can change quickly.
In a troubling year in which Penguins stars have sustained major injuries, Fleury has become the team's rock. There might not be a more consistent goalie in hockey, and without Fleury's steadiness, the injury-ravaged Penguins may have long ago lost their way.
"It's unbelievable because of how young he is," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "People don't understand what he's done, how young he was when he won the Cup. Goalies usually just start to come into their own at his age."
Fleury turned 27 last month. His next victory will be the 200th of his career. Such a pace is usually reserved for those destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
His accomplishments — and youthful age, especially for a goaltender — are difficult to ignore.
"It's a little early to be wondering about the Hall of Fame for a guy that's presumably got many, many years left before he hangs them up," ESPN hockey analyst Scott Burnside told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. "Of course, if he rolls up a few more Cup wins, maybe the conversation won't be that far in the distance."
Fleury's 15 victories this season rank second in the NHL, trailing only Detroit's Jimmy Howard.
Another Detroit goaltender marvels at how quickly Fleury has emerged as an elite goalie and credits the Quebec native's laid-back personality with much of his success.
"He's a happy-go-lucky kid," said Detroit goalie Ty Conklin, who filled in for Fleury during the 2007-08 season when the latter injured an ankle. "When he came back from that injury, he was almost unbeatable."
Fleury reached the Stanley Cup Final at age 23, won the Cup at 24 and emerged as an MVP candidate at 26 during a season in which the Penguins lost Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to injuries.
Now at 27, his consistency remains. He has allowed more than three goals in a game only once all season.
"There is no question in my mind that he's one of the top five or six goaltenders in the game," ESPN and TSN hockey expert Pierre LeBrun said. "And you can bet he'll be part of a one-two punch for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Fleury and (Montreal's) Carey Price are easily the two front-runners to play in the net for Canada."
While questions remain about the Penguins' ability to get healthy, Fleury continues to be an anchor for the lineup.
"He's an unbelievable goalie," right wing James Neal said. "It's fun to be a part of what he's doing."