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Less-visible in goal Fleury a Game 2 key for Pens and Sens @NHLdotcom

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Of all the first-round draft picks who have transformed the Pittsburgh Penguins from one of the NHL's worst teams to one of its best in only two years, he is usually mentioned last.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal ... and, oh yes, Marc-Andre Fleury.

As well as Fleury is playing in goal - and his coach says no one is playing better - the Ottawa Senators probably must find a way to get to him unless they want their Eastern Conference playoff series with Pittsburgh to be over quickly.

The Senators got nothing past Fleury in their 4-0 loss in Game 1 on Wednesday, and the Penguins - big favorites before the series began - can take a 2-0 series lead by winning on home ice again Friday night.

The 23-year-old Fleury's transformation into one of the NHL's best goalies is a key reason the Penguins are widely viewed as a prime Stanley Cup contender. Since returning Feb. 28 from a nearly three-month injury layoff, Fleury is 11-2-1 and hasn't allowed more than three goals.

"There's no doubt this is the best I've seen from Marc-Andre Fleury, the last month-and-a-half," coach Michel Therrien said Thursday. "He's calm, the game is going slower. ... He's more mature, he's not surprised with plays and shots and he's always squared to the puck."

As Penguins captain Crosby said, Fleury didn't get good only after getting over his high ankle sprain. Fleury also won his final four starts before being hurt Dec. 6 in Calgary, allowing a combined four goals, and he tied for third in the league with 40 victories last season.

In Game 1, Fleury looked nothing like the nervous playoff rookie he was a year ago, when he let in six goals in Ottawa's 6-3 opening-game win and the Penguins were eliminated in five games.

Fleury twice kept the Senators from scoring during 5-on-3 advantages, and he earned his first career playoff shutout despite seven Ottawa power plays.

"I think the penalty killers did an awesome job," said Fleury, who made 26 saves. "They have a lot of skilled guys who are dangerous around the net. I know our defense blocked a couple of shots and cleared away a couple of rebounds from in front of the net."

The Senators were short-handed when the series began without injured star Daniel Alfredsson, plus center Mike Fisher and forward Chris Kelly, but Dany Heatley said there's enough offense remaining to make a series of it.

"Marc-Andre Fleury, he made some saves, but we feel that if we shoot more pucks on net, we can score some goals," Heatley said.

The Senators certainly need more of them. They led the league with 258 goals, but have been shut out in three of their last five games. They have only one goal in two games since Alfredsson hurt his neck and knee against rival Toronto last week.

Still, this isn't the Fleury the Senators saw before - perhaps because they're seeing less of him.

Upon returning from his ankle injury, Fleury discarded the bright gold pads he had worn since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 and is now strapping on generic white pads.

So much for a fashion statement, and for a reason.

Optometrist Janet Leduc - from Ottawa, no less - wrote Fleury and the Penguins that his gold pads were easily distinguishable and provided opposing shooters with an easy-to-find target. She also included several graphs that illustrated how yellow is the most distinguishable color.

Her suggestion? Fleury should wear white pads that blend in with the ice, the rear boards and the netting, making it harder for shooters to pick out Fleury during scrambles.

Fleury isn't giving his new pads all the credit but, he said, "White, they've been good."

For the Penguins to stay good in Game 2, Therrien said, they must stay out of the penalty box, not be drawn in retaliatory penalties and stand up to a team that will be desperate to avoid going home down 2-0.

"They're going to come with more desperation and we're going to have to play them better than we did (in Game 1)," Therrien said. "We all know that. ... But I like our focus right now."

The Senators may not know until game time if defenseman Anton Volchenkov can play. He needed stitches to close a forehand gash caused when Malkin's slap shot struck him in his helmet midway through Wednesday's game.

"He's got a lot of swelling and a lot of stitches," coach Bryan Murray said.

Notes: Murray fiddled with his lines during practice, moving Martin Lapointe onto the top line with Heatley and Jason Spezza. ... Therrien on not allowing seven power plays again: "We can't spend a lot of time in the penalty box, not with the talent they have." ... F Gary Roberts, coming off his two-goal game Wednesday, got the day off Thursday.

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