Penguins notebook: Team works to replace Marc-Andre Fleury's humor
Many of the memories of Marc-Andre Fleury that his former teammates have discussed in the wake of the goalie's return to PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night have revolved around the practical jokes he was known to pull off.
It's worth asking whether the Penguins have successfully filled the role of prankster since Fleury went to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft last June.
It's not as important a role as, say, third-line center, but over the course of an 82-game season, breaking locker-room tension is a necessity.
“Guys have definitely made up for it,” winger Bryan Rust said. “I don't think any one guy could have filled his shoes, but I think by committee, we're getting enough laughs in here.”
Based on social media dispatches, center Evgeni Malkin and winger Ryan Reaves have been the lead members of that committee.
Last week, Malkin caught teammate Phil Kessel standing in a cryogenic therapy tub and posted a video online.
Early in the season, Reaves released a video of himself surprising Kessel in his hotel room with a scary clown mask.
“(Reaves has) got to step up his game, for sure,” winger Tom Kuhnhackl said in a comment that could easily come back to haunt him. “Flower did one once a week or twice a week. Reave-o's got to match that a little bit.”
There was a lot of pomp and pageantry surrounding Fleury's return to Pittsburgh, of course. Rust said he thinks some of the team's prior experiences over the past two seasons helped prepare them for it.
“We've had outside distractions before with things of this nature, like banner stuff, and our experience helps kind of block that out come game time,” Rust said.
Fleury received his third Stanley Cup ring from owner Mario Lemieux, team president David Morehouse, general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan before morning skate Tuesday.
Former Penguins defensemen Deryk Engelland said Golden Knights players took a look at Fleury's ring when he brought it back to the locker room but didn't try it on. He joked that a ring made for Fleury's dainty fingers wouldn't fit on his rugged hand.
“Guys took a quick look,” Engelland said. “It was pretty nice.”
The big one
Given the nature of an expansion team — the roster was formed by plucking one player from every team in the league — the Golden Knights are experienced dealing with homecoming games.
Engelland said this one was bigger than most.
“I think, just with Flower being here for 13 years, it's probably a little bit more special for him than all the other guys with three or four years with a team,” Engelland said. “He was a huge part of this organization for a lot of years. You know it has to be special for him.”
Tuesday night's game was also the last major homecoming on the Penguins schedule this season.
All the other prominent players and coaches who left after last season — Rick Tocchet, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, to name six — have made their returns.
The Penguins used the same lineup as they did Saturday night in New Jersey. Defensemen Matt Hunwick and Chad Ruhwedel were healthy scratches.
Even with Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary out with lower-body injuries, Sullivan started the game with the balanced lineup he has grown to prefer, keeping Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Kessel on separate lines.
“I don't think it's any secret that we believe in the balance,” Sullivan said. “We like it when we have it, but certainly that's a conversation that we have almost daily.”