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Fleury Continues Late-Season Heroics

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


Fri @ Elmira Jackals 7:35 p.m.
Sat @ Elmira Jackals 7:35 p.m.
Sun @ Elmire Jackals 4:05 p.m.

Fri Dayton Bombers 3-4 SOL
Sat Reading Royals 5-4, W
Sun Reading Royals 4-5, L

Tommy Goebel appeared to score the game-winning goal Sunday afternoon late in the third period. However, after review, the goal was disallowed due to a hand pass. Reading’s Tyler Doig went on to score the game-winner with just 45 seconds remaining in the game.

As they did Saturday night, the Royals took the early lead when Ben Gordon scored his 17th goal of the season less than four minutes into the game. Doig and Scott Langdon recorded the assists. The Nailers had chances to tie the score in the first period, including a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity, but couldn’t find the net.

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March is the transition month between winter and spring. It’s the 31-day period where cold gives way to warmth, barren trees grow leaves and birds return home from exile. 

March is also the month when the local foliage rejuvenates. Fields are soon overrun with blossoming flowers like dewberries, ghostflowers, snowdrops, bloodroots, irises and everybody’s favorite flower – the helianthemum apenninum.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has the nickname “Flower,” which leads to many cheesy references and headlines about blossoming or blooming or growing. But Fleury does share an uncanny resemblance to the flourishing spring flower. Every March, Fleury plays his best hockey of the season and takes his game to another level.

(Insert the “Fleury’s Play Blossoms in Spring” or “The ‘Flower’ Blooms in March” here).

Maybe it’s a mere coincidence that Fleury’s performance “blossoms” in the same month that many flowers begin to “spring” back to life. But there is no denying that Fleury is dominant during the spring solstice.

In fact, Fleury is arguably the best goalie in the NHL at this time of year. The evidence is in the numbers. In the last three seasons Fleury has compiled a March/April record of 29-5-5 with a 2.05 goals against average and .928 save percentage.

So why is Fleury such a seasonal “late bloomer?”

“I don’t know,” Fleury said. “I think all around the team has been doing great. I think I’m seeing way (fewer) shots than I did earlier in the season and less scoring chances. We do a good job on the PK and those are things that help me out.”

The Penguins have certainly played better as a whole, losing only one game in regulation in the past month (10-1-2). The team has played lights out recently and that no doubt has helped the Penguins goaltender. But it’s also true that Fleury’s stellar play has contributed to the team’s impressive record.

“I think it’s up to every guy to step up this time of year but your goalie especially because he’s a big part of the team’s success,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “When the games mean the most that’s when your best players have to step up. As a whole your team has to rise to the occasion. I think he’s a guy that’s been a part of that.”

“I don’t change anything, I guess it just happened (that way),” Fleury said. “I try to stop the puck every time. I guess it’s good to be going to the playoffs with a good sequence of games.”

If Fleury’s technique hasn’t changed, maybe his uncanny late-season performance is more mental than physical. After all it takes a certain mental focus/toughness to play goal in the NHL, and as Yogi Berra once said that “90 percent of the game is half mental.”

“I can only say what I see and it looks like he’s having a blast out there right now,” defenseman Mark Eaton said. “He looks likes he’s having fun. When guys are at their best, their having fun and enjoy stepping on the ice and doing what they do.  It’s visible from him right now that he just loves being out there.”

“He is just as immature as he was when he was 18 but I don’t mean that in a bad way,” long-time teammate Brooks Orpik said. “He’s just a guy who is carefree. He doesn’t really have a lot of worries. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s always here to have a good time and at the same time he’s always working hard.”

Fleury’s laid-back attitude certainly helps him remain focused and forget about goals he’s surrendered.

“The way I approach games is that you play them, try to learn from them and forget about them 24 hours later,” Orpik said. “I’m sure as a goalie it’s even more so with every goal. It is what it is and you try to get over it as quick as possible. The quicker you do it the better off you are.”

Fleury’s mental strength has allowed him to overcome injuries in the past. He missed 13 games earlier this year with an undisclosed injury. Last year, a high ankle sprain cost him nearly three months and he returned to go 10-2-1 with a 1.45 GAA and .950 save percentage down the stretch and then led his team to the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s not that bad when I came back and we went really well right until the end,” Fleury said. “(The injury) didn’t make a huge difference last year and this year everything didn’t go as well as I wanted it to but now I’m happy with where we are at.”

The Penguins will need Fleury to hit his usual late-season stride as the team surges to earn a postseason berth and make some noise in the playoffs. Fleury is the type of goaltender that can steal a game, or even a series with his play.

“He’s done that in the past and I’m sure he’ll do that in the future,” Eaton said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the league and that’s what great goalies bring – when a team is not on their A Game he still gives them a chance to win. You’re ready to throw your head back and say, ‘no,’ but he makes a spectacular save. He can do it all. He’s nice to have back there.”

And as for the burning question of why Fleury is so unbeatable late in the year, I guess I’ll have to quote Yogi Berra again: “I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question.”

But Crosby put it a little more eloquently:

“You have to have a feel for the game. You have to be aware of the situation and realize what’s at stake. I think he has that. With each year he’s learning more and more. It’s a hockey sense. You have to feel that and know when to turn it up. He’s been doing that for us.”

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