Confident Fleury behind Penguins' recent streak
Marc-Andre Fleury smiles sheepishly when asked about his outstanding play in recent weeks.
The Penguins' goaltender is his usual attention-deflecting self, turning praise toward his teammates for clearing rebounds and blocking shots to make his job easy, then says he's just taking it one game at a time.
"The most important thing is to win," Fleury said. "That's what we want."
Thanks in large part to Fleury, the Penguins have been doing a lot of that lately.
Although they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in overtime Sunday to end their season-high winning streak at six games, the Penguins still have points in 10 consecutive games (8-0-2) dating to Jan. 13. By collecting 18 out of a possible 20 points, the Penguins have catapulted from the outside looking in to sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Penguins have 30 games remaining, beginning with tonight's home game against the NHL-leading Nashville Predators.
Fleury, 22, has played in nine of those 10 games, compiling a 7-0-2 record and allowing 22 goals on 293 shots for a .924 save percentage. The Penguins were outshot in all but two of the nine games.
"He's been unbelievable," Penguins rookie center Jordan Staal said. "He's kept us in every game, and that's what good goaltenders do. When we scored three goals, he tried to keep them at two. He's been there for us, and that's why we're winning."
Fleury's 24 wins this year tie him with the Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller, the Atlanta Thrashers' Kari Lehtonen and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Andrew Raycroft for seventh-most in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur leads the league with 32 wins.
The No. 1 pick overall in 2003, Fleury also has played in 43 games this season -- seven fewer than all of last year -- but he already has 11 more wins. Entering the season, he was 17-41-8 in 71 career NHL games.
Fleury doesn't feel like he's doing anything different lately. He said he's full of confidence and relaxed on the ice, and that he stays calm even after he gives up a goal.
Still, teammate Ryan Malone, one of the few holdovers on the team from when Fleury made his debut in 2003-04, has noticed some differences in the goaltender this year.
"I think he always had confidence, but I think when he first came in the league he was almost too quick," Malone said. "The more he's played the more he's gotten used to speed of the puck. He almost had to slow down. He was a great goalie, but he maybe had to get better at reading the plays. He's a lot more patient, and he's making the saves when he has to. He's going to be a great goalie."
He's certainly getting there.
Since the Christmas break, in the most consistent stretch of his young career, Fleury is 10-3-3 with a 2.20 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and three shutouts in 16 games.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, his goals-against average and save percentage are both sixth-lowest among goaltenders who've played at least 10 games over that same period, his three shutouts are tied for third most and his 10 wins are tied for fourth most.
"He's always had some great games; it was just a matter of putting a lot of them together," Malone said. "He's definitely stepped his game up. I think that everyone on the team is trying to take their game to the next level."