Pens' victory eases Fleury's disappointment
By Keith Barnes
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Marc-Andre Fleury spent more time on the bench than he did on the ice Tuesday during the Penguins' 5-4 shootout win at Ottawa.
What he did in his limited action was fish three pucks out of his own net in the first period, turning a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit. After he was yanked for the first time since Dec. 19, Fleury witnessed a stellar performance by backup Jocelyn Thibault, who stopped 15-of-16 shots in regulation and overtime, then 2 of 3 in the shootout.
"It's always frustrating when you get pulled like that, but it was good to see my teammates come back and get the win," Fleury said Wednesday after practice at Mellon Arena. "I felt all right, and the first goal was a bad bounce. And that's what's frustrating a little bit."
Fleury is becoming known as an enigma, a goaltender who can make a spectacular save on one shot, then give up a weak goal on the next.
His inconsistent play forced coach Michel Therrien to start Thibault during a recent two-game road swing to Florida. Though Thibault stood out against Florida, when he stopped 32-of-33 shots, he was pulled in the second period of a Feb. 25 loss against Tampa Bay.
He knows exactly what it feels like.
"It's never fun. It's the worst feeling when you get pulled from a game," Thibault said. "It's happened before, and it's going to happen again. And that's just the way it is. You're going to have nights where it's going to be harder and you have to bounce back."
Even during the Penguins' recent 14-0-2 streak, Fleury's play went to extremes. After a brilliant 30-save performance Feb. 3 at Washington, he came back the next night and gave up four goals on 29 shots in an overtime loss to Montreal.
In his last four games during that streak, all regulation wins, Fleury allowed at least four goals in each game.
In the start that ended the run, the 22-year-old was touched up for six goals in a loss to the New York Islanders, a defeat that sent Fleury to the bench for Thibault and started him on a week of intensive practice with goaltending coach Gilles Meloche.
For three starts, it appeared to work, as Fleury was refocused and back on top of his game. He was 2-1-0 in those games and surrendered only seven goals on 87 shots for an outstanding .966 save percentage.
That was before he was lit up for three goals on seven shots in the first period against Ottawa. The one that got Fleury pulled was a 55-foot slapshot from Chris Kelly that beat Fleury for a shorthanded goal.
"It's tough because I still have to learn and I still make mistakes," Fleury said. "I'm sure, with maybe a little more experience, I'll cut down on those, and that will make me more consistent."
Though Fleury has had his ups and downs, his teammates are quick to point out that, many times, the puck hitting the twine has more to do with what they're doing -- or in some cases not doing -- in front of him.
"There's probably certain situations where we didn't backcheck as hard or had a miscommunication or a missed check in our zone or something like that," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "For people watching, sometimes they don't see the little details of the game where, 10 seconds earlier, if you get a puck deep instead of turning it over, they don't get that opportunity. So, it's not always that exact moment of a play."
Still, seeing a goaltender get pulled isn't an easy thing for the player or his teammates.
It was especially difficult for the Penguins after the first period in Ottawa, considering the way the team came back and won.
"You don't want to see it come to that," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "There's some plays that we definitely could have helped him out on, clearing guys in front, playing the man and breaking the puck out so they didn't have it in our zone as much. By no means was this all on him ...
"You need your teammates to support you out there, and I think we could have done a better job helping 'Fleur' out there."