Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stops the Capitals Alex Ovechkin during the shoot out Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena. (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review)
Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang met near the runway door seconds after the end of the Penguins' 3-2 shootout win over Washington on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena and went through a celebratory handshake routine they had kept on hold for far longer than either desired.
Both knew they would get the chance to celebrate a win in which they contributed at some point this season. But until Matt Murray, who snatched the starting job with Fleury injured in the 2016 playoffs, ended up sidelined with a broken thumb, the opportunity for Letang and his friend appeared less certain to occur on the Penguins' opening night.
So there they went after Fleury turned away 39 shots and two shootout participants, with the duo raising their hands high and then swooping down for a no-look low-five. Just like they did in seasons past, before an impending expansion draft and Murray's emergence as an NHL-ready netminder made Fleury's role with the Penguins more tenuous.
“It just feels like home here, and I'm glad I got to start that game,” said Fleury, who has handled goaltending duties in 11 consecutive openers.
He gave up the game's first goal, as Andre Burakovsky snuck Washington's second shot on target past Fleury just 59 seconds into the opening period.
But Fleury rebounded and avoided a fate similar to his last start with the Penguins, when he allowed four goals on 25 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
He turned away 14 of 15 shots in a hectic third period against the Capitals and remained solid during an even wilder overtime, when Washington fired six shots from close range and held the puck for long stretches of time.
“It's great for Marc,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We're thrilled for how hard he battled to get back last year. It was a difficult circumstance for him personally, and he's worked extremely hard to get to this point. I thought he made some real good saves for us, especially in the overtime down the stretch.”
Added winger Patric Hornqvist: “Our best player, by far. He made some really key saves. … I'm so happy for him, honestly. It was tough last year, when Murray came in. He's such a professional guy and one of the best teammates I ever met. I'm glad for him and I know he's going to play well.”
Murray's return date remains unknown, which means Fleury gets a few more starts to remind Penguins fans of his full potential. He heard them chant his name during player introductions. He hopes that continues for months to come.
“They've always been behind me,” Fleury said. “It means a lot, and it feels good.”