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Fleury seems to have rediscovered his form

by Sergei J. Feldman
PITTSBURGH -- There's a default set of high expectations placed upon the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It's due to recent successes, like back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final and the 2009 Cup, plus a roster that features some of the League's most prolific players, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Marc-Andre Fleury's name also could be part of that star listing for his performance during those trips to the Final.

Through the first month and a half of the 2010-11 season, however, Fleury belonged in a much different discussion.

Going just 1-6-0 in his first seven starts and posting a goals-against average of better than 3.00 and a save percentage less than .900, Fleury has taken a healthy dose of heat. So much so, in fact, that his trademark happy-go-lucky demeanor and bright smile has been absent.

It's starting to come back, though.

Fleury has won his last two games, allowing just three goals and making a host of timely, spectacular saves. As he and the Penguins pursue their second three-game win streak of the season when they host the New York Rangers on Monday at the Consol Energy Center, there is the belief among players and coaches that the "old" Fleury is back.

"In Atlanta (Saturday, a 4-2 victory), they got the first goal and on the next shift there was a huge save made," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Marc-Andre makes the save and it gives our bench confidence. He's been excellent in the last two games doing that for our team."

So what changed all of a sudden?

"He just needed to get one behind him and start rolling with it," veteran backup goalie Brent Johnson said.

More specifically, "just watching the last couple games, it seems like he's really just simplified his game. Not trying to throw poke checks. Just trying to get his body in front of the puck, and he's been successful."

His success, not surprisingly, has translated into team success.

Despite losing three of four games to begin November, the players maintained their game was evolving. The difference between victory and defeat came down to a temporary breakdown or ill-timed goal allowed.

Lately, however, those issues have been few and far between, while the scoring has come through to the tune of nine goals the last two games.

Team captain Sidney Crosby likes what he’s seen from his team recently.

"Obviously we had a tough third period against Boston (when they called five goals in final period), but other than that our game has been where it needs to be and now we've given ourselves a chance to win games," he said. "(Fleury) has played really well the last couple. I'm sure that helps and I think he's gaining confidence. And as a team, we're confident in the way we're playing. We want to just keep it going."

The man between the pipes, whose memory of early season lapses is fading, wants to keep it going just as much.

"It was frustrating, definitely, to struggle to get some wins," he said. "It was tough. But my teammates were supportive and they helped me through it."

So did the fans.

Before the Friday's home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the fans erupted with supportive chants before the singing of the national anthem. He responded by stopping 15 of 16 shots in a 5-1 victory. He followed that with 31 saves on 33 shots in a 4-2 win in Atlanta the next night.

"Friday was a fun night, and emotional," he said. "It was great and I'm just looking forward to being back in there and get another win."
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