Sunday, April 30, 2017
Marc-Andre Fleury’s stingy goaltending sparks Pittsburgh Penguins' Game 2 win
Kevin Allen , USA TODAY Sports
April 29, 2017
Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save against the Washington Capitals in the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to prepare for the worst-case scenario has put them in the best possible position for a run at a second consecutive Stanley Cup title.
General manager Jim Rutherford was reluctant to trade Fleury this season because he wanted a viable Plan B if last year’s goaltending hero Matt Murray was injured.
That thinking seemed clairvoyant after Murray was injured during the warm-up before the first game of the playoffs. Fleury stepped in to become the most important figure in the team’s quest to be the first NHL team since 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back championships.
“He’s been our best player,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Fleury is the primary reason why the Penguins will enter Monday’s Game 3 in Pittsburgh with a 2-0 lead over the Washington Capitals in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal
“He’s a great competitor,” Sullivan said. “He’s a great teammate and he’s risen to the challenge.”
On Saturday, he made 34 saves in a 6-2 win to give him 67 saves in the first two games of the series. He owns a .944 save percentage against the Capitals and a .937 save percentage in the Penguins’ first seven playoff games.
This is a guy who lost his starter’s job to Matt Murray last season after serving as the franchise’s No. 1 goalie for more than a decade. He helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup in 2009, but he was watching from the bench when Murray took the Penguins to a championship last season.
The expectation is that next season Fleury, 33, will be in Las Vegas, or Dallas, or Calgary or Vancouver, or somewhere else. Just not in Pittsburgh. Murray is younger and less expensive.
But Fleury is not fueled by anger. He’s fueled by personal pride and a desire to help his guys. He has long been a favorite in the Penguins’ dressing room.
“It’s fun,” Fleury said. “It’s good to win. I’m really enjoying this time right now. I don’t try to overthink stuff.”
It doesn't require heavy thinking to conclude that the Penguins are winning the series because Fleury is doing the heavy lifting. The Capitals dominated the Penguins in the first period of Game 2 and Fleury was flawless, stopping all 16 shots he faced. The Penguins were being outshot 19-5 when they scored their first goal.
“That’s what they do,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “They are a quick strike team.”
What makes Fleury’s exploits more valuable is that Washington’s No 1 goalie Braden Holtby isn’t at his best. He was pulled after two periods in Game 2. He has given up six goals on 35 shots in the series.
“We just had to change the mojo,” Trotz said. “He will tell you that he can be better.”
Holtby has play sharper or the Capitals’ chances of coming back in this series are minimal. Even though the Penguins have scored nine goals in the first two games, it still has the feel of a goaltender series because Fleury’s ability to outduel Holtby has been the critical component of their success.
Trotz was asked whether he believed the Penguins had discovered Holtby’s vulnerabilities. He dismissed that theory, noting that his team has studied films of Fleury as well. “There are no secrets,” he said.
Philipp Grubauer played the third period in goal for the Caps in Game 2. Trotz said he hasn’t given any thought to which goalie he will use Game 3.
It is likely to be Holtby. He’s a Vezina Trophy candidate. He’s one of their stars.
“He wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us,” Trotz said “He’s a game-changer for us. When he didn’t change the game, I looked to change the Mojo a little bit Braden’s our guy. He has been all year. We have to find some goals for him to. We just can’t put it on Braden Holtby.”
Follow Kevin Allen on Twitter @ByKevinAllen.