PITTSBURGH— A day off for Marc-Andre Fleury? It really might happen.
On Sunday, Brad Thiessen could become the first Pittsburgh Penguins goalie other than Fleury and Brent Johnson to start a game in more than two years.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is leaning towards starting Thiessen – who is up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the second time in a week – against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. Thiessen, a 25-year-old former Northeastern University goalie, hasn’t played in an NHL game.
Thiessen is 20-14-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average at Wilkes-Barre after having a superlative season in 2010-11, when he was 35-8-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
Johnson, the Penguins’ backup, was injured in practice Thursday – two days after an undisclosed illness prompted Pittsburgh to bring up Thiessen for a 2-0 victory over the Rangers. Thiessen did not play in that game, but was back in uniform for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fleury has had an exceptionally heavy workload – the Tampa Bay game was his 31st appearance in Pittsburgh’s last 33 games, including three games in which he replaced an ineffective Johnson.
With the Penguins playing at a more than every other day pace for the next month – 18 games in 35 days – Bylsma wants to give Fleury some time off as the playoffs grow closer.
Fleury, enjoying a second consecutive strong season and the Penguins’ MVP a year ago, has 31 of the team’s 34 victories this season. He is 31-14-3 and has 2.36 goals-against average.
Johnson is 3-7-2 and has won only once in six appearances since Dec. 3.
Only once in the last three seasons has a goalie other than Fleury or Johnson started for Pittsburgh. John Curry stopped only nine of 14 shots during an emergency start at Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2010, a game in which amateur callup Alexander Pechurski finished up by stopping 12 of 13 shots. Both Fleury and Johnson were unavailable that night.