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Fleury quietly contributing to Pens' success

| Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is all smiles these days, and with good reason.

After a rocky preseason filled with criticism and speculation that he might start the season in Wilkes-Barre, Fleury has started all eight games for the Penguins, who are 5-3 and in first place in the Atlantic Division going into Wednesday's games.

It may be early in the season, but the start has made a world of difference for both a goaltender and a team with more downs than ups in recent years.

"It's just different," Fleury said yesterday after practice at the Robert Morris Island Sports Center. "It's a different atmosphere, and I think everything's just more fun now that we're getting some wins. Everybody's more relaxed and more confident, and it shows every game."

Fleury, 21, was in net for 13 of the Penguins' 22 wins last year with one shutout, a 3.25 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage in 50 games.

This is the first time in his young career that he's made eight consecutive starts. In addition to the five wins, he already has one shutout, a 2.65 goals-against average (ranked 16th in the league) and a .923 save percentage (10th in the league).

And with all the success that teammates Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal are having, Fleury is off to his best start -- with relatively little attention.

"Sometimes he is getting overshadowed, but a lot of guys are doing well, and he's one of them," Crosby said. "He deserves a lot of credit for a lot of our wins. He's holding us in games and making saves at really key times during the game. In the room, we don't overlook that at all. We realize he's a big part of it."

Not that Fleury's complaining.

"Yeah, yeah, I like it," he said, grinning, of the spotlight shining brighter on some of his teammates. "I just try to do a good job on the ice, and I don't have to worry about anything else than playing hockey, I guess."

Fleury's approach to attention - particularly that of the negative variety - has changed this year. He admits that in the past two seasons he cared what was being written and said about him, particularly after a bad game.

Not so much anymore.

"I know when I have a bad game, and I don't read the paper or watch the news," he said. "I know what I did wrong; I don't need people to always remind me. ... I think bad games happen to everybody. You have a bad one and read about it for a couple days and then you start thinking. You want the next day to start over and forget about the last one."

Crosby said observers can tell that Fleury is full of confidence this year.

"You always know when goalies are playing well," Crosby said. "The puck looks big to them. They're confident, and they're out of their net cutting down the angles. And that just comes naturally from playing, too. He had pretty much a full year last year and half a year before that. I'm sure he's getting to know himself better and getting stronger mentally and in the end just gaining more experience."

Fleury by the numbers
Here's a look at 2003 No. 1 pick Marc-Andre Fleury's numbers over his young NHL career:
Games played

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