Fleury to start for Penguins in Game 2 Friday
In the middle of a practice drill that saw three players shooting on a goalie with no defenders in front of him Thursday afternoon in Cranberry, Marc-Andre Fleury lunged forward onto his stomach to stop a Sidney Crosby shot.
Crosby scooped up the rebound and coolly tossed a backhand shot toward the back of the cage when Fleury, like a horror movie villain, unexpectedly threw up his glove hand behind him to snatch the puck out of the air.
That's when something unusual happened.
Fleury didn't direct a single friendly taunt at Crosby after the miraculous save. Not one. He always does that.
Instead, he accepted a stick tap on his pads from Crosby and went on to get ready for the next shot.
Has Fleury suddenly become a grown-up, ditching the youthful enthusiasm that has been his trademark throughout his 14-year career?
He's simply developed a nonverbal way of chirping teammates after big saves in practice.
“I gave him a look,” Fleury said, grinning. “He knows. We don't talk all the time. He knows.”
Fleury, 32, might not be boasting a newfound sense of maturity, but he has seen pretty much everything the game can throw at a goalie in 691 regular-season and 101 playoff appearances in his career.
That experience could come in handy, too, because the Penguins are facing a goaltending situation that could easily rattle a less seasoned player.
Fleury will start and 21-year-old Tristan Jarry will be the backup when the Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series Friday night at PPG Paints Arena, coach Mike Sullivan said after Thursday's practice.
Sullivan said No. 1 goalie Matt Murray is out with a lower-body injury. He intimated the Penguins have an internal timetable for Murray's return, but he would not share it with the public.
So, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the net is now Fleury's, and probably not for just a game or two.
“I'm just going to go one game at a time and one day and at a time and try to worry about that and nothing else,” Fleury said. “Playoffs are long. A lot can happen. … Everybody has to stay sharp through the process.”
There have been times in recent Penguins history where handing the playoff reins to Fleury would be a dicey proposition.
In the four years after he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009, he had a subpar .880 save percentage in 31 postseason appearances.
Since 2013, however, Fleury turned his playoff fortunes around, recording a .919 save percentage in 21 appearances.
“I've worked with a sports psychologist. I think that's been helping,” Fleury said. “The next two years were the Rangers and, in those series, I played well.”
There were times this season where the idea of Fleury as the undisputed starting goalie would be cause for concern. In November, for instance, he went 0-3-2 with a .889 save percentage.
He came out of that slump too, though, going 4-2-2 with a .932 save percentage since March 5, culminating in a 31-save showing in a 3-1 Game 1 victory over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.
That performance, as much as anything, might be the best reason for the Penguins to feel confident about their potentially precarious goaltending situation as the first round rolls on.
“That's not an easy circumstance, going into a playoff game,” Crosby said. “With his experience and going through some of the things he has, I think that helps, but it's not easy nonetheless. Just happy to see him do well.”