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Penguins have faith in fast-starting Fleury

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pegged as one of the Pittsburgh Penguins' question marks entering the season, Marc-Andre Fleury has continued his trend of regular-season success.

Fleury has become known as one of the NHL's better regular-season goalies with a 258-153-41 record, but has surpassed expectations with one of the best starts in his 10-year career.

"Marc has been extremely solid in his game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think he's been in control, confident, solid in the net and in his save selection. But he's also got that acrobatic, athletic ability that he can flash."

Fleury won his ninth game (tied with the San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi for the League lead), a 3-2 victory against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, capped by a save that looked quite familiar.

With a few seconds left, Bruins forward David Krejci wristed a shot that looked bound for the back of the net. But Fleury dove to his right and deflected the puck with his shoulder. It was a move reminiscent of his save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

"Rewatching the game this morning I saw the save from the [different] camera angle than the one that I had from the bench [Wednesday]," Bylsma said. "It was said after the game, but it was a little reminiscent of that save. The push across, the dive, and he came up with a shoulder save this time."

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Fleury downplayed the similarities and gave credit to his defense for the win Wednesday, which he customarily has done throughout October.

"It was a different situation. A different side too," Fleury said. "It was good to make the save and get a win."

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of Fleury's first NHL shutout, which came in his sixth career start, a 1-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 30, 2003. The 28-year-old said he couldn't believe he has been in the NHL for a decade.

"It's crazy. Time flies," Fleury said. "It's unbelievable, but it's been a good time."

Pittsburgh is hopeful Fleury can continue to have a "good time."

He has given the Penguins no reason for doubt through 11 starts. With Tomas Vokoun (pelvis) injured, Pittsburgh knew Fleury would have to carry the bulk of the load.

"Marc will have to step up," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said after announcing Vokoun's injury.

Fleury responded to the challenge and has been one of the more prominent factors in Pittsburgh's 9-4-0 start.

"He's played really well," forward Brandon Sutter said. "He's given us a chance every game he's been in. He was taking a lot of heat coming into this season but he's responded well and he handles his business so professionally and so well.

"For him to be playing well is just huge for us."

Fleury carries a .927 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average into the Penguins' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday at Consol Energy Center. Fleury has held opponents to two or fewer goals in eight of his starts.

With Jeff Zatkoff in net, the Penguins are 0-2-0 and have averaged 5.0 goals-against.

Pittsburgh's defense in front of Fleury has improved, allowing 30 or more shots in two of his starts.

"I think the team has done a good job of limiting the opportunities in front of him," Bylsma said. "Allowing him to make that save and be solid in net. We've kept scoring chances down. I think we've done a good job of that in a lot of the games to this point. Shot totals have been down.

"At the same time Marc has been up to the task and [Wednesday] he had three or four real good saves, there were a couple tips he was solid on."

Some doubt Fleury will maintain his play come April, assuming Pittsburgh earns a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has struggled in the postseason since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and was benched in favor of Vokoun after four starts in Pittsburgh's first-round series against the New York Islanders last season.

Fleury has gone 4-6 in the past two postseasons, with a 4.11 goals-against average in 11 games.

The Penguins have been adamant that none of the players doubt Fleury.

"I don't think that's fair right now," defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "He's proven himself time and time again. He's won a Stanley Cup. He's done great things in the playoffs. We have trust in him and no one in this dressing room raises a question like that.

"I think it's a little silly."

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