Statement made: Fleury lifts Penguins over Capitals


PITTSBURGH — The biggest issue the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing over the summer was how they were going to handle their two-headed monster in net between Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.

It was — and still is — a situation that creates a number of short-term and long-term questions.

Which one stays, which one goes, and until one of them does go, who is going to get the bulk of the playing time? Right now the situation is easy. With Murray sidelined for the first month of the season due to a hand injury sustained at the World Cup of hockey, Fleury is back in his familiar position as the team’s starter.

In their season opening 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, he made a pretty big statement that it is still his net.

Even though Kris Letang did his part to help shut down Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, and even though Evgeni Malkin scored a big goal late in the second period and Phil Kessel tallied the winner in the shootout, it was Fleury that was the team’s best player on the night.

He was spectacular in turning aside 39 of the 41 shots he faced, including all six shots the Capitals put on him during 3-on-3 overtime period.

None of those saves were bigger than this point-blank stop on a wide open T.J. Oshie right in front of the net.

Fleury being the unquestioned starter on opening night is a bit of a reversal from the way things went in the Penguins’ net just four months ago on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.

With Fleury sidelined at the start of the postseason due to a concussion, Murray took over the starting job and played so well that he never gave up the job, even after Fleury was 100 percent healthy and cleared to play. That performance from Murray, combined with the contract situations facing both players and the looming expansion draft next year, created an offseason storyline centered around the two goalies and the franchise’s long-term plans for the position.

Given the ages of both players (Fleury is nearly a decade older than Murray) it still seems logical to assume that Murray is going to be the long-term solution at the position, assuming he doesn’t have a noticeable regression this year. In the short-term, the Penguins seem happy to let the situation play out and stick with both goalies.

On Thursday, on the same night the Penguins were celebrating their Stanley Cup win, it was Fleury’s opportunity to shine after sitting on the sidelines for almost that entire journey.

“It’s great for Marc,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

“We are thrilled with how he battled to get back last year. It was a difficult circumstance for him personally and he has worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

Even though he only played 75 minutes in the playoffs last season he still played a massive role in their success during the season. Before the mid-season coaching change roster overhaul that helped jumpstart their second half and postseason surge, Fleury was pretty much the only player keeping the team afloat in the standings early in the season. It was perhaps the best season of his career as his career continued to do a 180 after a couple of disappointing postseason performances that seemed to leave his future with the team in doubt.

His future with the team is still in doubt at this point, but for entirely different reasons.

Instead of being performance based, it’s all about a cheaper, younger option coming up behind him.

On Thursday, he showed that he is not quite ready to give up that spot just yet.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.