PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are taking a gamble that many teams on a roll would prefer not to make; they're giving a rookie goalie his first NHL start at a key time of the season.
Brad Thiessen, up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the second time in a week, will start Sunday against Columbus. Thiessen was 20-14-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average at Wilkes-Barre after going 35-8-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage there in 2010-11.
Even with backup goalie Brent Johnson nursing an injury -- coach Dan Bylsma said he "tweaked" something during practice Thursday -- the Penguins badly wanted to give Marc-Andre Fleury a day off. Bylsma indicated before Saturday's 8-1 win over Tampa Bay it was a strong possibility that Thiessen would start in the second of back-to-back home games for Pittsburgh.
Fleury, who has played in 31 of the Penguins' last 33 games, stopped all but one of 61 shots he faced in his last two starts, shutting out the Rangers 2-0 on Tuesday.
Thiessen was called up early last week when Johnson became ill before the Rangers game, then was brought up again following Thursday's practice.
Bylsma broke the news to him Saturday following Pittsburgh's fifth win in seven games.
"It's a good moment as a coach, to get o see a guy realize he's going to play in his first National Hockey League game," Bylsma said.
Goaltending coach Gilles Meloche's only instructions to Thiessen were to go back to his hotel and get some sleep.
"Brad chuckled and said 'We'll see if that's a possibility,'" Bylsma related.