Fans are reminded that the game will start at 7 p.m., instead of the usual 7:30 p.m. Gates will open at 6 p.m. For ticket information, please check the ticket section of pittsburghpenguins.com, or call 412-642-PENS.
It’ll be a unique night for the Penguins goaltender, who says this will be the first bobblehead doll made in his likeness. And, he can’t wait to get his hands on one.
“I am looking forward to seeing it,” he said. “I haven’t seen it yet. I hope they didn’t make me too ugly.
“I think it’s pretty cool to have myself going like this,” added a smiling Fleury, who was moving his head back and forth. “I think it’ll be nice.”
It’s also nice that Fleury, who celebrates his 22nd birthday Tuesday, has not been a human bobblehead in goal this season for the Penguins, who have improved their overall defense.
“I think the biggest difference is winning. Last year was a tough season for everybody,” Fleury said. “Maybe last year, I had more shots and scoring chances against. I think this year, the defense and forwards are coming back and they’re blocking shots and getting rebounds away. That helps me a lot.”
Fleury, who is known as “Flower,” and his defensemen have taken a step forward this season. He attributes that to a better overall knowledge of the personnel on the ice – including the Penguins’ opponents.
“I kind of figured out everybody’s team systems and their big players. Who likes to shoot and who likes to pass. You get to know your own team better, too,” he said. “They know what I can do and I know what certain guys can do. That helps me a lot. Communication is something we have to keep improving, especially when I go behind the net to get the puck. I think that’s something we need to keep working, but I think it got better from last year.”
Experience is also huge factor for Fleury, the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He appeared in 50 games with the Penguins last year and earned 13 of the team’s 22 wins. Add in the 21 appearances during 2003-04 and that gave him 71 NHL
games under his belt and a confidence boost heading into this season.
“The fact that I played many games last year, maybe I feel calmer this year if I get scored on,” he said. “I know we can come back and score goals this year. I feel more confident and I think everyone feels more confident in the [locker] room.”
Fleury also has a new teacher in goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, who was named to the Penguins’ coaching staff this season. The former Penguins scout played in net for 18 NHL seasons and appeared in 788 career games – 104 with the Penguins. Meloche replaced Gilles Lefebvre, who was a goaltending consultant for the Penguins last year.
“I like both guys. I liked Gilles Lefebvre last year, too,” Fleury said. “Gilles Meloche played in the NHL, so he knows what I am going through. He knows about having bad games; he knows that we play 82 games a year and how tough it is to play so many. I think mentally, he can help me out and tell me how to think.”
Fleury has been working to fine-tune his game. For him, that means trying to harness his amazing athleticism and controlling his 6-foot-2 frame to be in better position to stop pucks rather than flailing all over the ice.
“I have been trying to maybe not dive everywhere. Trying to stay in control and better positioned,” he said. “I am trying to get hit with the puck instead of always reaching out for it. I need to be patient and not always go down and slide like this or dive like this.”
With his lightning-quick reactions, Fleury is able to get to almost any puck from any position in his crease. However, his Gumby-like saves left him vulnerable to rebound goals.
“That’s something I have been working on for a while. I have a tendency to always kick the puck with my legs,” he said. “That’s something where I try to stay more in control. It’s something I tried to work on more this year than ever before – deflecting the pucks with my stick rather than kicking them.”
He has made considerable progress. And, if you watch Fleury in practice, you can notice he is working hard and paying close attention to becoming more positionally sound.
“I think it’s a lot of practice to break a habit. You have to practice a lot and get through your mind to break your habit,” Fleury said. “Just from practicing to the games, you’ll get better and keep improving.”
The results are evident in Fleury’s game. He and the Penguins shut out the Flyers, 4-0, to open the season. He made 40 saves in that triumph, his third-career shutout. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 40 saves is an NHL record for stops in an opening-game shutout. The previous record was set by Glenn Hall on opening night in 1964 when he made 38 saves in a 3-0 Chicago win over Boston.
Fleury has carried his strong play into the rest of the season. He started a career-high 11-straight games from Oct. 5-Nov. 4. For the season, Fleury has a 10-5-3 record with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage as well as a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star ballot.
Nevertheless, the only statistic Fleury cares about is wins, because that’s a team accomplishment.
“I think it’s been good. My main concern is for the team to win,” he said. “So far, I think we’ve done pretty well. A lot better than last year at this point.”