PITTSBURGH — Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has had only four games off since well before Christmas. If Brad Thiessen plays as well as he did in his first two NHL games, Fleury will get a fifth game off Tuesday night.
Thiessen, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) last month, will start against Winnipeg as the Penguins try to get the much-used Fleury some rest during a busy stretch of play. Their last-second loss in overtime Sunday in Philadelphia was their third game in four days, and they begin another crowded stretch of games – five in eight nights – on Tuesday.
Fleury (39-14-4) has played in 40 of 44 games since Dec. 3.
Brent Johnson is still on the shelf with an undisclosed injury, so Thiessen is getting a chance to play in some important games for a team that is pushing the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins began the night three points behind New York, a 4-2 winner over New Jersey on Monday.
Thiessen was in net as the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Feb. 26, turning aside 22 of 24 shots. He had exactly the same numbers during a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 7.
Thiessen, last season’s AHL goaltender of the year, couldn’t have had a much better start.
“In his first start, he was pretty confident in front of the net and looked pretty comfortable there,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s been playing well, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in there.”
Winnipeg will be the first contending team that Thiessen has faced.
“Leading up to it, you’re a little bit anxious,” he said. “It’s a good kind of excitement. But once the game gets going, you focus on playing your game and everything kinds of settles down a little bit.”
Johnson took part in the morning skate as he begins his rehabilitation, but a return date has not been established.
The Penguins will attempt to bounce back from one of their toughest losses of the season, although they earned a point in their 3-2 loss at Philadelphia decided by Scott Hartnell’s goal with less than a second remaining. Pittsburgh couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead in the third period of a defeat ended their 11-game winning streak and cost them a chance to, at least for a day, catch up to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings.
Sometimes, players will attempt to put such a loss behind them as quickly as possible. This one was more difficult to push aside.
“I haven’t forgotten about it,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I had a phone call from a friend in hockey who watched the game on TV and knew how I probably felt. … He said, `You have to look at it
this way: You’ve gotten 23 out of the last 24 points.’ That was better than saying we got five out of six (on a three-game road trip). We wanted to go in there and beat Philly and we let that slip away. We got off our game a little bit in the third period. That’s what sits with you about that game. We’ll put that one behind us, but it’s not far behind you.”
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh will attempt to match its longest home winning streak (eight games) since the 2004-05 work stoppage. The Penguins have won 13 of 14 at Consol Energy Center since Jan. 17. They also have won 10 in a row at home against the Winnipeg franchise, which relocated from Atlanta after last season, and 13 of the last 15 meetings overall.
The Penguins are 2-1 against the Jets this season.
Pittsburgh’s projected lineup:
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Steve Sullivan – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke – Sidney Crosby – Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi – Craig Adams – Arron Asham
Kris Letang – Paul Martin
Brooks Orpik – Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen – Deryk Engelland