Penguins Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury At His Best In First Game After Signing New Contract


Oct 22, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) gloves the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the dying moments of Thursday’s game in Winnipeg, it all looked very familiar for the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the result coming down to a shootout, Nos. 71, 87 and 29 delivered as they usually do.

But with apologies to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, each of whom scored brilliant shootout goals against Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec, Marc-Andre Fleury was the man of the match for the Pens.

Just one day after signing a four-year contract extension with Pittsburgh, Fleury served as a bastion of stability in a game that teetered out of control on several occasions. Give the 29-year-old credit on this night – he had a feel for the moment.

Although the electrifying Evander Kane beat Fleury for a breakaway goal early in the third that tied the score, the freshly-signed goalie denied several golden chances for the Jets, keeping the Penguins’ persistent sloppiness from costing them the game. The 4-3 win boosted Pittsburgh’s record to 9-2-1, although it was far from its best performance of the early season.

On a night that featured several fights and post-whistle scrums that added up to 102 combined penalty minutes, the Penguins’ prolific power play misfired six times, keeping the speedy Jets (7-5-2) in position to steal two points. Perhaps because of the physicality, the Pens strayed from the controlled game they’ve displayed under new coach Mike Johnston, frequently firing errant passes and getting caught up ice.

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However, when Winnipeg embarked on its many odd-man rushes, Fleury provided some serious added value. It’s almost as if he wanted to respond to those who thought the Penguins’ renewed commitment to him was unwise.

To be clear, I was one of those who reacted with confusion when Fleury’s new contract was announced Wednesday afternoon. I thought general manager Jim Rutherford was taking a wait-and-see approach with the No. 1 goalie he inherited this summer. As I wrote earlier this week, I believed Thomas Greiss might be able to provide comparable goaltending for a much cheaper price for the long term.

Rutherford didn’t share that thought. Although I initially balked at the prospect of paying $5.75 million annually for league-average production, there is something to be said for familiarity and trust. The Penguins obviously have the latter in Fleury, especially since Mike Bales began coaching him last fall.

Maybe there’s something to the “new Fleury” narrative, even if his superficial numbers last season didn’t look much different from his previous two years. The biggest difference in 2013-14 was that Fleury carried over his solid play into the playoffs, which had been an issue in 2012 and ’13.

We’re a long way from the postseason now, but Fleury has rebounded from a couple of shaky games early to look quite good recently. His two-game shutout streak was broken in Thursday’s first period, although that was no indictment of his performance.

If all goes according to plan for the Penguins, they won’t need amazing goaltending to climb the mountaintop. They will require it on occasion, however, and they got it on a rollicking night in Manitoba.