Penguins’ Fleury hot down the stretch
PITTSBURGH (AP) — They call Marc-Andre Fleury “Flower,” an homage to the French translation of the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie’s surname. And in Pittsburgh, they’re getting used to the Flower blooming come spring.
For the third consecutive season, Fleury has turned up his game down the stretch — and the Penguins, not coincidentally, are playing their best hockey from the beginning of the winter thaw through what they hope to be another playoff run that extends into June.
“He’s putting himself out there as one of the elite goaltenders,” winger Chris Kunitz said. “He’s won a lot of games for us since I’ve been here. I haven’t seen him give up too many weak goals. You can tell he has a lot of confidence back there right now, and we all have a lot of confidence in him.”
Fleury is 12-2-2 in his past 16 decisions heading into today’s game against the New York Rangers. He has lost only once in regulation during his past 13 starts, and in 11 games in March, he has allowed only 20 goals while posting a 1.77 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
All this has come while the Penguins have climbed from 10th place in the Eastern Conference to being just two points out of securing home-ice advantage in the first round.
“This is the time of year where everyone needs to step up, especially for him as a goalie,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He’s made a habit of doing that.”
Fleury has a history of playing his best late in season. His best month for regular season goals-against average is April. March is his second-best.
The splits for his pre- and post-All-Star break statistics are staggering: He is 55-66-15 before the break during his career; 52-18-10 after. His goals-against declines more than half a goal (3.07 to 2.56) and his save percentage climbs 10 points (.903 to 9.13).
Last season, Fleury was 10-2-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .947 save percentage down the stretch after returning from an ankle injury that cost him almost three months. He was almost as good during the playoffs in leading the Penguins to within two wins of the Stanley Cup.
“Overall, the whole team is getting better, and that makes my job easier,” Fleury said. “Things have been going well for me, but also the team’s been helping me out, too.”