The Penguins' 26-year-old flower is back in full bloom
Marc-Andre Fleury turned 26 yesterday. When he blew out the candles on his birthday cake, the Penguins goalie probably wished that the form he has displayed in the past two weeks would remain permanently.
His disastrous start to the season has been forgotten, and Fleury has regained his Stanley Cup form.
"The confidence is good now," Fleury said with a smile after Friday's 2-1 win over Ottawa.
Funny Fleury should mention confidence. He and his personal coach, Gilles Meloche, believe confidence and repetition were all that was needed to end his early season struggles.
"It was just a matter of getting him back out there," Meloche said. "His style and work habits never changed. He just had a couple of bad breaks in the first few games."
Meloche was specifically referring to the second game of the season, when Fleury allowed two late goals to Montreal in a 3-2 loss Oct. 9. Mike Cammalleri tied the score on a deflection that certainly wasn't Fleury's fault. Only 24 seconds later, Scott Gomez beat him for a decidedly soft goal.
"It's a funny game," Meloche said. "He could have been the first star of that game. He was playing really well, and then you start doubting yourself."
The loss to the Canadiens clearly had an affect on Fleury. In an uncharacteristic move, he declined interviews that evening and proceeded to go 1-4 in his next five starts before being benched after allowing two goals in a game at Phoenix on Nov. 6.
Through it all, Fleury remained confident that his play would rebound.
"You could tell he was down," Meloche said. "He always blames himself. That's what you have to get over."
Along with captain Sidney Crosby, Fleury has been the Penguins' most valuable player during their six-game winning streak. After Fleury hit rock bottom following the Phoenix benching, Crosby suggested the goaltender would find his way only by returning to the lineup.
Following the team's third-period debacle against Boston in a 7-4 loss Nov. 10 -- backup goalie Brent Johnson faced a barrage of odd-man rushes -- Fleury found his game. So, too, did the Penguins.
"The guys are playing really well in front of me," Fleury said. "We aren't giving up as many scoring chances."
Fleury has allowed a total of three goals in his past three starts, and he figures to play tonight at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
"When you're positive, you start getting the breaks," Meloche said. "He's stuck with it."
In Friday's game against Ottawa, Fleury made perhaps his best save of the season: a lunging glove stop on Chris Kelly. It was vintage "Flower."
Said Fleury: "I'm going to remember that one for a little bit."Additional Information:
By the numbers
Breaking down Marc-Andre Fleury's performance this season:
First eight games:
Goals allowed: 25
Save percentage: .853
Past eight games:
Goals allowed: 14
Save percentage: .942
Goals allowed: 39
Save percentage: .905