Fleury remains undefeated, Crosby stays hot in Pens win


People might chuckle at Marc-Andre Fleury’s gaffe from Saturday, but the goalie and his Pittsburgh Penguins got the last laugh, beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 via a shootout.

Fleury stopped 34 out of 37 shots to remain undefeated, as the Penguins only loss came when he was getting a breather.

It was really a game about Pittsburgh’s big stars, as Sidney Crosby continues his ridiculous start to 2013-14; he collected a goal and two assists to push his NHL-leading points total to 17. As of this writing, he leads everyone else by at least six points.

Evgeni Malkin made a big contribution, too, as he collected an assist and the shootout-winner. The Penguins have now won 11 straight shootouts at home.

The Canucks carried much of the play, firing 39 shots on goal compared to Pittsburgh’s 28, but they couldn’t beat Fleury enough to take the win. Like seemingly everyone else (aside from the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final), they also couldn’t stop Crosby.

Video: Fleury allows a goal from center ice

Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game One

Even in good times, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a tendency to give up some wacky goals. Saturday presented a great example, as Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alex Edler beat him from center ice:

That goal was a nice gift for Edler, who was just returning from a three-game suspension for a hit on Tomas Hertl.

Fleury can shake it off – aside from maybe some ribbing in the locker room – because Sidney Crosby scored a great goal to tie it up. Crosby now has an eight-game point streak with an NHL-leading 15 overall.

Overall, the 28-year-old netminder actually had a great first period, as the Penguins go into the first intermission tied 1-1 despite Vancouver’s 15-5 shot disadvantage.

“The Flower” isn’t the only guy to let up a weird goal lately.

Roberto Luongo suffered from this stunning own-goal about a week ago:

Jonathan Quick flubbed one on Oct. 8:

And Jonathan Bernier had a head-scratcher Thursday:

So, chin up “MAF,” you’re not alone.

Ovechkin, Eller and Fleury are the three stars of the week

Alex Ovechkin

The reigning MVP of the NHL is also the first star of the week.

From the league’s release on Alex Ovechkin’s latest honor:

Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (4), points (6), power-play goals (3), power-play points (5) and shots on goal (24) just days after returning from Greece, where he became the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. He opened the season by recording 1-1—2 in a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Oct. 1. Ovechkin then scored twice, assisted on the game-tying goal and potted the clinching score in the shootout to help the Capitals rally from a three-goal deficit in a 5-4 victory over the Calgary Flames Oct. 3. He closed the week by tallying Washington’s lone goal, the 375th of his career, in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars Oct. 5. The 28-year-old Moscow native and reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner has played in 604 career NHL games, all with the Capitals, totaling 375-366—741.

Montreal center Lars Eller and Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

That’s a pretty refreshing way to start the season for Fleury in particular, who came into 2013-14 under immense pressure to rediscover his form and responded with two wins, a shutout and a .979 save percentage in his first two starts.

Penguins not surprised by Fleury starting season with shutout, 250th win

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 3: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is introduced prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils on October 3, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury entered the 2013-14 campaign with something to prove and he got off to a great start Thursday night. Fleury turned aside 27 shots, including a late third period penalty shot, to pick up his 250th victory and 24th shutout.

It would be tempting to make that event into some grand statement after his disastrous showing in the 2013 playoffs, but the Penguins and Fleury kept level heads with 81 games left to go. They did, however, take this opportunity to assert that they’ve never lost faith in Fleury.

“Sometimes I shake my head at the things I read,” forward Craig Adams said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“This guy’s a champion. He’s a great teammate. I’m happy for him. He played awesome …

“(But) I don’t think it means as much as you might think. We’ve had confidence and will have confidence in Flower.”

Ultimately it was a strong performance and Fleury’s achieved a significant milestone, but it’s hard to read too much into this start. Fleury has endured four rough playoff runs in a row, but he’s remained strong in the regular season.

Like the rest of the Penguins, Fleury could have a dominant 2013-14 campaign, but that’s not what he’ll be judged on. If he wants to move past the concerns surrounding him, then he’ll need to have some outings like this in the playoffs.

Under Pressure: Marc-Andre Fleury

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a drink during the season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on January 19, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins we picked…goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

On a team that typically has no trouble scoring goals and in recent years has almost always been regarded as a major Stanley Cup contender, Fleury has become something of a blemish.

The most frustrating part for this franchise is that goaltending shouldn’t be this big of an issue. Fleury should be up to the task. He was once a highly regarded prospect and has even excelled at times, but he’s also struggled for four straight playoff runs. And it’s only gotten worse.

Although he wasn’t solely to blame, Fleury couldn’t seem to buy a save against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. After that, the Penguins decided to get a backup goaltender they could depend on in Tomas Vokoun.

The Penguins still went right back to Fleury for the start of the 2013 regular season, but they were ready when he went cold again in the playoffs. Vokoun took over and helped guide them to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2009.

That didn’t stop coach Dan Bylsma from firmly stating that Fleury was still their number one goaltender, although as it happens they temporarily have little choice due to Vokoun’s health issues.

Still, while the Penguins remain largely loyal to the former first overall pick, questions about his ability to step up in high-pressure games have to be on their minds. It was probably a factor when Hockey Canada declined to invite him to their Olympic orientation camp despite the fact that the 28-year-old made the 2010 gold medal-winning team.

It has to be weighing on Fleury, too. How many second chances will he get? His contract expires in the summer of 2015. If he can’t shake his current reputation, will there be a team out there willing to offer him a long-term deal?

Fleury’s path to redemption starts in October, but it certainly can’t end there. A great regular season won’t shake away the doubts or stigma surrounding him. After all, he had a solid regular season in 2013 and it didn’t solve anything. To get out from under this, he will need to be at his best this spring.

Otherwise the Penguins will be struck with a disturbing sense of déjà vu and on a team that’s trying to win at all cost while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their prime, they would be hard pressed to simply go through this again with Fleury in 2014-15.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.