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The Buzzer: Luongo, Fleury, Jones notch shutouts, Predators win 10th straight

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Players of the Night: 

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: The Cats need a few things to go right to make the playoffs. The man called Lu (or Strombone) posting 31-save shutouts will certainly help their cause though. Luongo was stellar in the win, his 75th career shutout, and the Panthers are two points out of a playoff spot. Fancy that.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: Fleury turned aside all 28 shots he faced against a porous Detroit Red Wings team in a 4-0 win. Vegas matched the record for most road wins (19) by a team in its inaugural season because of course they did. Honorable mention to Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, who split the spoils with a pair of goals each.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: 16 saves don’t seem like many to get a shutout, but it’s hard as a goalie to keep your wits about you when you’re facing next to no shots. Jones faced 16 shots in a 2-0 shutout, with only two of those coming in the third period. St. Louis was very bad on Thursday, with Jake Allen standing in the way of a complete blowout. Allen stopped 34 of 35.

The whole team, Nashville Predators: Yes, every single one of them. Because winning is hard in the NHL and yet the Predators recorded their 10th straight win on Thursday in a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks.

Highlights of the Night:

Hischier pass warning:

Nolan Patrick with the no-looker:

Poor Jake Allen:

Defeated:

Quick robbery:

News of the Night: 

Factoids of the Night:

Some Jets stuff, because they have players named Laine and goalies named Hellebuyck:

Uh oh. The Lightning have another player who can produce at will:

Scores:

Panthers 5, Canadiens 0

Lightning 5, Rangers 3

Golden Knights 4, Red Wings 0

Sabres 4, Senators 3 (OT)

Blue Jackets 5, Avalanche 4 (OT)

Jets 3, Devils 2

Bruins 3, Flyers 2

Predators 4, Ducks 2

Hurricanes 3, Blackhawks 2

Oilers 2, Islanders 1 (SO)

Sharks 2, Blues 0

Kings 3, Capitals 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Fleury makes emotional return to Pittsburgh

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com

• Fleury welcomed back by Penguins fans with open arms (NHL.com)

• Hockey is for Everyone: The Jessica Platt Story (Sportsnet.ca)

• Sittler’s record-setting jersey resurfaces after 42 years (TSN.ca)

• Amanda Kessel is a typical 26-year-old — who also happens to be an elite hockey player (ESPN.com)

• Every NHL Player Safety suspension from the 2017-18 season in one place (SBNation.com)

• Rick Nash disappointed about being asked to submit a list of teams to which he’d accept a trade (Newsday.com)

• For first time since 1994, Olympic hockey means no NHL (bostonglobe.com)

• Japan’s Women’s Hockey Team Wants to Be Known for Wins, Not Smiles (nytimes.com)

• In icy Minnesota, Pond Hockey Championships capture sport’s essence (AOL.com)

• Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher gives glimpse of off-ice life (montrealgazette.com)

• Whalers jerseys have no business in Carolina (ctpost.com)

• An open letter to Hartford Whalers fans (Old North Blog)

• Canadian women’s hockey legend Hailey Wickenheiser to donate brain to concussion research (Concussion Legacy Foundation)

• Hockey Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine is working with all levels of hockey to share lessons he learned from the game (NBC Olympics)

• They can’t see, but blind hockey players can pass, shoot and score (Washington Post)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marc-Andre Fleury talks about an emotional return to Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — It was quite a scene in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night when Marc-Andre Fleury, one of the most beloved players in Penguins history, made his return to the city for the first time as a visiting player.

It probably wasn’t the night Fleury had planned for his return, giving up five goals on 38 shots in a wildly entertaining 5-4 loss to the Penguins, but a standing room only crowd spent much of the night — from the start of warmups to his announcement as the third star of the game — showering him with cheers, thanks and appreciation for what he did for the team over the previous 13 years.

During the first TV timeout in the first period they roared during an extended tribute video and then  kept cheering for so long that the linesman actually delayed for a minute before finally dropping the puck to continue the game.

[More: Why Pittsburgh Loves Marc-Andre Fleury]

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Fleury after the game when asked about the night. “In warmup I had goosebumps. Before the game, people had signs and kind words. It’s a night I won’t forget. Except maybe the score.”

“It was just amazing, the support I’ve gotten over the years here is just incredible. I thank everybody for all these years and once again showing up tonight with such great support.”

Here is a look at the tribute video the Penguins put together to welcome back Fleury.

Fleury was obviously a bit emotional during the video and said after the game he was just glad he had a mask on.

“They always do a good job with these (videos),” he said. “A lot of good memories. A lot of good years. It just brought some fun memories.”

Early on it looked like it was going to be Fleury’s night as the Golden Knights jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from William Karlsson and James Neal, one of the four former Penguins that currently play for Vegas.

Fleury also made a handful of big saves, including robbing Jake Guentzel on a breakaway.

But in the second period the Penguins’ firepower finally became a bit too much. A Ryan Reaves goal opened the floodgates, and then Ian Cole, Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all followed to help the Penguins score five consecutive goals.

“They’re a very talented team, very fast, and able to create a lot of space and time for themselves to get some goals,” said Fleury.

“Sometimes I caught myself thinking a little too much about their tendencies. Hopefully it will get easier to play them as it goes on.”

Vegas received third period goals from Ryan Carpenter and Jonathan Marchessault to cut the deficit to one but were never able to get the equalizer.

Kessel and Malkin nearly had a couple of more goals as Kessel ripped two shots off the post early in the game, while Fleury was able to stop Malkin with one of his patented poke checks on a second period breakaway.

“I had Geno on a breakaway and got a poke check in there so I let him know,” Fleury said with laugh after the game when asked if there was any friendly trash talk during the game. “Phil wanted one and hit the post a few times and kept telling me he was coming back. He did get one.”

Fleury said the entire day was a different experience for him but that he now knows what it’s like to be other goalies in the NHL having to play in that building against that team.

“It was so different to be in this locker room and going on the ice in another jersey and seeing them coming at me,” said Fleury.

“Now I get to see what the other goalie faced all these years. It was a lot going on, lots of emotions, a little bit of stress, but it was worth it.”

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Why Pittsburgh loves Marc-Andre Fleury

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Let me start by asking you a question.

What makes your favorite player, your favorite player?

Why do you like them?

Is it the way the play, what they accomplished, a specific moment, something they did off the ice, a personal interaction you had with them? What was it?

There has to be something that drew you to that player.

The reason I bombard you with all of these questions is because on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury will be making his first appearance in the city as a visiting player. It is going to be some kind of a wild scene because in the history of the Penguins — heck, in the history of Pittsburgh sports — there are few players that will ever reach the level of popularity that Fleury had among a large portion of the city.

A lot of players — important players, good players — that were a part of Stanley Cup winning teams have returned to Pittsburgh as visitors and received a wide range of receptions. Jaromir Jagr, a legend, spent years being booed every time he touched the puck. Most players get a nice round of applause. Some get standing ovations.

None of them will compare to the one Fleury gets on Tuesday night when the roof will probably blow off the building. There will almost certainly be a non-zero number of people in the stands wearing Penguins jerseys that are actively cheering for a player in the opposing colors to win.

That relationship always fascinated me, and it still does.

Looking at his career as a player objectively there is nothing that really stands out all that much versus any other goalie from his era.

Do not get me wrong, he certainly was not a bad player, and he was always extremely durable. A goalie that could play 65-70 games a year at a — at worst — league average level is a pretty valuable commodity.

But he was never the best — or even second best — player on his own team, and he was never really among the top players in the league at his position.

The league’s general managers never saw fit to vote him higher than seventh for the Vezina Trophy (and only twice voted for him at all). He played in two All-Star games in 13 years and only finished higher than 10th in save percentage once. He had some downright forgettable postseason performances that probably at times made him a detriment to the team’s Stanley Cup chances. Twice he was replaced by other goalies, and while he is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins, he wasn’t the goalie in the crease for the clinching game for two of them and didn’t even play a role in the playoffs for one of them.

This isn’t meant to be critical, it’s just facts.

Still, if you were to poll Penguins fans on who their favorite player over the past decade has been a significant portion of them is going to have Marc-Andre Fleury at the top of that list. He is going to get a heroes welcome.

So again, we’re back to the question of why he is so fiercely loved.

A lot of comes from the fact that anyone that has had any significant interaction with him has never had a negative thing to say about him. Hearing his former teammates talk about him and tell stories about him shows how much reverence they have for him as a player and a person.

That carries over to the fan base because they hear things like this from Ian Cole.

How would you not want to root for a player like that?

Even though he is a highly competitive person behind the scenes, on the ice and on camera he always has that same smile on his face and just seems to be genuinely happy to be there, never taking things too seriously. It is easy for fans to root for a person like that. When Fleury was on his way out of Pittsburgh this past summer having been sent to Vegas as part of the expansion draft, Sean Gentille wrote at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “this would all be easier if he were a jerk. People would be more rational, if nothing else.”

But he was not — and is not — a jerk.

He also is not boring.

His style of play is just … exciting. Not always the most effective, but never boring. A fundamentally sound goalie that always has himself in position to have the puck hit him in the chest isn’t going to appeal to people. It isn’t going to make highlights. Fleury has never been that goalie. He has always relied on freakish athleticism to play the position and has always been capable of making mind-melting saves.

When his career comes to an end he is going to have a lot of great numbers when it comes to wins, championships, saves. It is going to be one of those very good for a very long time careers, instead of one that was dominated by objective greatness over any number of seasons. Or even individual seasons.

But he still had his moments of greatness, and they tended to be HUGE moments.

There was that breakaway save on Alex Ovechkin early in Game 7 of the 2009 playoffs. There was the Stanley Cup clinching save on Nicklas Lidstrom later that spring. The best stretch of play in his career is probably largely forgotten because it didn’t result in a Stanley Cup win, but his performance during the 2007-08 postseason was game-changing, and it would have made him a worthy Conn Smythe contender had the Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings that year. As it stands, he was the only reason they won two games in that series against a team that steamrolled them in all six games. With his team facing elimination in a Stanley Cup Final game he stopped 55 shots in a triple-overtime win.

Then there was the 2017 playoffs when he briefly got his job back from Matt Murray and helped propel the team through the first two rounds of the playoffs despite the fact they were probably outplayed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.

That stuff sticks with fans, too.

Then there is the hope he provided.

When the Penguins traded up two spots to select Fleury with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft things were not great for the organization. It was a bad team that had sold off all of its best players for pennies on the dollar, while the future of the team was still very much in doubt.

Fleury was supposed to be the beginning of a new era, and for an entire generation of fans he was the first core building block for what would become a championship level team. He was there before Sidney Crosby. Before Evgeni Malkin. Before Kris Letang. They threw him right into the deep end of the pool, making him their starting goalie on opening night as an 18-year-old, something that is still unheard of today.

He showed up in bright yellow pads and played behind a team that was so unspeakably awful they got outshot by a completely mediocre Kings team (one that missed the playoffs!) by a 48-11 margin on opening night. Fleury, the 18-year-old, stopped 46 of those shots, including a penalty shot. In his next start a week later he stopped 31 shots to beat a Red Wings team that would go on to be one of the best in the league that season for his first career win.

That stands out with fans, the fact he was the beginning of a new era that would probably become the most successful era in franchise history (and from a championship standpoint, it has been).

Was he ever a great player for the Penguins? If we define greatness as being the best on the team or one of the best at his position, the honest answer is no, probably not.

But he was a great person and a great teammate. He was a great ambassador for the team and the league. He provided great hope at a time when there was no hope for the team. He had great moments that led to great success for the team.

That stuff all adds up over 13 years, and sometimes in the eyes of fans it is all worth more than just simply being a great player.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Fleury gets revenge against Penguins, Vegas grabs 20th win

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If you’re the fussy type, you might object to the word “revenge” in the headline.

It feels wrong to say that Marc-Andre Fleury got “the last laugh” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being that this game happened in mid-December. So feel free to soften the verbiage; maybe you’d prefer to say that Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights merely “got the best” of the Penguins.

Either way, round one goes to “MAF.”

The instinct might be to ding this game because it came in Vegas instead of Pittsburgh, but you could say that there was a healthy offering of Penguins fans tonight:

Whatever way you slice it, there was reportedly a fascinating atmosphere in Vegas, even if the game was a bit “low-event” at times, at least when you consider sheer pucks on net; Fleury stopped 24 out of 25 shots on goal while Murray gave up two goals on 26.

This odd-angle goal by Ian Cole was the only puck to beat Fleury, who was lights out in a second straight victory since returning from concussion issues that … we thought might have been the end of the Golden Knights’ hot start.

If the scene wasn’t nostalgia-laced enough, consider that Fleury evoked the save he made against Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final:

Sheesh, some of this stuff almost seems on the nose, doesn’t it?

Remarkably, the Golden Knights improve to 20-9-2 while the Penguins fell to 16-14-3. Writing that almost made me pass out from the unlikelihood of it all; honestly, if someone told Golden Knights management that their record could be 16-14-3, they’d probably take it, right?

In case you’re wondering, yes, this marks another record.

So, the Golden Knights are 12-2-1 in Vegas so far. This doesn’t guarantee that there’s some sort of … sickness that comes from playing a team located in Sin City, yet it doesn’t exactly slam the door shut on such a conversation, either.

Now, Marc-Andre Fleury? He’s done quite a commendable job of shutting the door so far for the Golden Knights. His old buddies found out the hard way tonight.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.