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Marc-Andre Fleury ready to 'start from scratch'

Penguins goalie will shoulder load with injury to Matt Murray

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury entered Pittsburgh Penguins training camp in unfamiliar territory.

The Penguins franchise goaltender of the past decade was prepared to battle for the starting role, a position that was once unquestionably his. Two days into camp, what was old is new again with Fleury serving as Pittsburgh's definitive starting goalie.

At least for the next few weeks.

Fleury is expected to start when Pittsburgh opens its regular season against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 13 with goalie Matt Murray recovering from a broken hand that will keep him out 3-6 weeks. When Murray returns, the competition between the two goalies likely will resume, but for now, Fleury knows the net is his.

"I'm just trying to get back in my game shape," Fleury said. "It's unfortunate for [Murray] and I never would wish for another goalie or anybody else on this team to get hurt. … I think that's something I've seen, how quick the game changes and how things change on a team.

"There were a couple of guys who were there at the beginning of [last] season who weren't at the end when we won the Cup and it's just going to be [me] trying to help the team win. When you get a chance, do your best."

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm5: Fleury robs Johnson with stellar save

Following an offseason full of speculation regarding whether the Penguins would retain Fleury for a 13th NHL season, he is focused on building off of one of his best regular-season performances. Although he was mostly relegated to a back-up role throughout the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup run, Fleury's skill had not declined.

In 58 starts, Fleury went 35-17-6 with a career-low 2.29 goals-against average and career-high .921 save percentage.

However, Fleury sustained two concussions, the first on Dec. 14 and a second on March 31, which caused him to sit in the press box during Pittsburgh's first seven Stanley Cup Playoffs games.

When Fleury dressed for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Capitals, he sat on the bench and watched his then-21-year-old protégé make 47 saves in a 3-2 win. Murray's rapid maturation made him difficult to remove until he allowed four goals on 30 shots in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fleury came in to start the third period and stopped each of the seven shots he faced in a 4-3 loss. Two days later, Fleury got the chance to reclaim his starting role, but allowed four goals on 25 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 5.

Murray was solid in a 5-2 win in Game 6 and never looked back.

Fleury, who hasn't started regularly since March, described his current condition as "a work in progress."

"I think when you have two, three months without playing, you feel like you have to start from scratch a little bit," Fleury said.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Fleury stones Namestnikov on doorstep

Four months removed from Fleury's last start, general manager Jim Rutherford said he is glad he retained Pittsburgh's career leader in wins (357). He would feel the same if Murray hadn't sustained an injury starting for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, in a 4-3 loss to Team Russia on Sept. 19.

"I'm happy we have two good goalies, regardless of if we have injuries or not," Rutherford said Saturday. "But certainly, it'll give you guys less to think about on who's going to play the first few games."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan agreed.

"It's an unfortunate injury on Matt's part, but fortunately it's not going to keep him out for an extended period of time," Sullivan said. "In the meantime, we have Marc, who has obviously been so good for this team for so long."

Fleury will look to continue that trend early in the regular season. Without Murray, he'll face a good amount of pressure when the defending Stanley Cup champions attempt to get off to a better start than they had a year ago when a 15-10-3 start cost coach Mike Johnston his job.

Pressure isn't new to Fleury, though. He's faced it for over a decade and is prepared to face it once more.

"It's the same for me," Fleury said. "I've been doing this for a few years and it's just about trying get back to my rhythm and finding my comfort level out there and getting back. I have these scrimmages and the preseason games to do it, and I'll be ready for the beginning of the season."

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