On Friday night, Marc-Andre Fleury was the first Penguins player to conduct an interview from his stall at the brand-new UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
From now on, the building will serve as the Penguins’ practice and training facility – which Fleury and a number of his teammates will use beginning today for informal skates leading up to training camp in September.
“It’s kind of tough to believe that training camp is almost a month away still,” said Fleury, who was at the arena that night for a VIP grand opening ceremony. “But we’ll be here. There’s a few guys already in town and a few guys will keep coming and we’ll skate together here. Break in the equipment and be ready for training camp.”
Individually, Fleury had a terrific season last year. Statistically, he led the entire NHL and set a franchise mark with 10 shutouts on the year (his previous single-season high was five). The 30-year-old netminder also tied his career-mark with a 2.32 goals-against average and came just .001 percentage point away from tying a career high with his .920 save percentage.
Away from the numbers, the Pens’ team MVP was their rock all year long, steadying the ship despite a bunch of injuries that saw Pittsburgh lose three of its top-four defensemen down the stretch as they fought for a playoff spot. And he pitched a shutout in the final regular-season game to clinch a berth for his team.
But while Fleury hopes to continue having that same level of personal success this season and has been working hard all summer to ensure that, he’s more focused on the team as a whole heading into the year.
“I haven’t skated much yet, I’ve been training off the ice,” he said. “But I think in the next few weeks I’ll be on the ice a lot more working on things. But at the end of the day, we just need to win. I think I just want to every night now have a chance to win a game and a championship at the end. That’s all matters really.”
Fleury was Pittsburgh’s best player in the postseason. Despite playing behind a young and inexperienced blue line because of injuries, he posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average while facing a ton of high-quality scoring chances.
As a team, the Pens allowed just two goals in each of their four losses. Defensively, they were fine. What they needed was more scoring, as the Pens’ firepower was extinguished en route to being eliminated by the New York Rangers in the First Round.
That’s something Pens general manager Jim Rutherford addressed in the offseason, most notably by acquiring superstar winger Phil Kessel from Toronto – a player Fleury is happy he no longer has to face.
“He’s very talented, very fast. One less guy I have to worry about playing against,” Fleury said with a laugh. “It’ll be good to have him with the group of guys that we have and maybe make practice a little tougher with all these guys that we have up front.”
From a goaltender’s perspective, Fleury said Kessel’s speed is his biggest threat.
“And the way that he can score goals,” Fleury added. “I think he maybe hasn’t been playing with the best teams the past few seasons and he’s still racking up lots of goals, lots of points. It’ll be good to watch him to play on our side now.”
Overall, there was a lot of turnover on the roster this summer, both with trades, signings and free-agent departures. And as Fleury’s a popular teammate who gets along with everyone, it’s understandable he was bummed to see guys leave.
But Fleury knows the moves Rutherford has made strengthen this team, and he’s looking forward to getting started with this new group.
“There’s been lots of changes, that’s for sure,” Fleury said. “Sometimes it’s a little sad to see so many buddies go and leave the team, but it’s part of the game. And it shows that Jim and the organization are ready to make changes to improve the team and give us a chance to win at the end, and that’s what he’s doing.”
There’s been changes in Fleury’s home life as well. Two days after he and his wife Veronique moved back to Pittsburgh in late July, they welcomed daughter Scarlett, who joined 2-year-old sister Estelle.
“A little bit more craziness in the house, that’s for sure,” Fleury laughed. “A little less sleep. But it’s for the best. Kids are awesome and you feel proud when you’re a dad taking care of them, so it’s been a lot of fun.”