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Inside Scoop: Fleury Pens' Masterton nominee

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Masterton Trophy is presented to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

And honestly, when you really stop and think about it for even a second, you'll realize that describes Marc-Andre Fleury to a T.

That's why the Pittsburgh chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association announced Monday that Fleury is the Penguins' Masterton Trophy nominee for the 2016-17 season.

And while the Masterton Trophy is an award players don't necessarily think of winning, it's still an honor when they do get recognized.

"It's nice," Fleury said. "It's not always the one you are looking for, but I look at the list of players that won it over the years and there are a lot of very good players out there, so that is an honor to be nominated."

While Fleury has been through his share of ups and downs throughout his career, his most recent adversity may have been the toughest.

It began when Matt Murray took over as Pittsburgh's starting goalie after Fleury suffered a concussion late last season, and the veteran watched as the rookie backstopped the Pens to the Stanley Cup.

This year, Fleury first and foremost has adjusted to playing a lot less games, seeing action in 36 with just 7 games remaining after usually seeing that number in the 60s. He's also helped mentor his younger goalie partner while dealing with non-stop trade rumors.

It's a situation that could have worn on anyone, and understandably so, considering Fleury had been the franchise goalie since being drafted first overall in 2003. But Fleury never let it affect his attitude, handling it with his usual contagious smile and friendly demeanor.

"In my head, I have always been taught that we're a team," he said. "You win as a team, you lose as a team. It doesn't matter what your role is, you have got to be a good teammate and try to help each other to be successful. I like to play. I love it. I have a lot of fun. If I'm not, I try to cheer the guys on."

I asked Sidney Crosby about just how fantastic of a teammate Fleury has been all year, and the captain corrected me, saying, "All year long and for a lot of years."

"I think he has always shown that as a great quality," Crosby continued. "He's a good teammate, someone who cares. He comes to the rink each day with a great attitude and mindset. He treats his teammates well and comes to the rink to have fun and work. Especially given the situation that it's been for our goalies, they both handle it well and especially him having to adjust his role a bit. I think he has handled everything really well."

The Pens have said over and over again they feel fortunate to have a tandem like this one, and while it's not always the easiest situation for two top goalies to share the net, Fleury said the one thing he's learned is that making it work is dependent on attitude more than anything else.

"At first I thought it was maybe a little bit harder not playing every night and not being in it every night," said Fleury, who endured a rough month of November before going 13-4-4 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage since Dec. 1.

"It took me a little bit to find ways to show up sharp every night and know when I was going in but after that, though, it has been going alright. We are winning games, we're battling for the top spot in the league."

It also helped that Fleury was still a Penguin after the trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. on March 1. He strapped on the pads and started in goal five hours later at the United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.

And even though the Penguins lost the game, 4-1, Fleury was terrific all night in one of the most exciting games of the season that had a ton of back-and-forth action and was a one-goal game until late in regulation. And I think what stood out the most was that he played like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.  

After the game, Fleury admitted to breathing a huge sigh of relief once that deadline passed hours earlier, and reflecting on it today, he echoed his thoughts.

"There was two weeks there that were maybe a little more stressful with a lot of thinking, but I'm just glad that's over and I can still play here," he said.

Ever since, Fleury has continued to be strong in goal for the Penguins. He's currently 3-0-2 in his last 5 decisions and played outstanding in every one, including the nights where the Pens weren't able to get that second point.

"I feel good," he said. "The second half has been better. Trade deadline has passed and there is a little less stress, so I can just think about playing and try to have some fun on the ice."

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