After spending two weeks in Vancouver at the Olympic Village as a backup goaltender for Team Canada, Marc-Andre Fleury
was all laughs and smiles after his first practice with the team since before the break. Fleury said he is proud that his country was able to capture the gold medal in the Winter Games.
“It was a great experience,” Fleury said. “I had the chance to be with (Roberto) Luongo and (Martin) Brodeur a lot. It was neat to watch them and see them on and off the ice. The whole experience was really amazing. I learned how they carried themselves. They were pretty relaxed and confident and easy going and worked hard during practice.”
Although Fleury did not get a chance to play in any of the games in Vancouver, he did get to dress as a backup for one of Luongo’s games and watched the game from up-close. This experience allowed the 25-year-old goaltender to reminisce about the Penguins’ road to the Stanley Cup last year.
“It just reminds me how great it is to win and how fun it is to win,” he said. “I think it’s important that we keep it simple just like we did last year.”
Bylsma also noted how Fleury needed to get back into the groove of playing once he returned to Pittsburgh since Brodeur and Luongo did most of the practicing for Team Canada during the tournament.
“His workload wasn’t significant, and we knew that he was going to have to get back in the net and get some shots before he played,” he said. “He was able to do that a little bit yesterday and obviously today and tomorrow before tomorrow’s game.”
After resting from the Olympics and practicing with the team, Fleury said that he is more than ready to play in the game tomorrow night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“It feels like it’s been forever since I played, so I’m just looking forward to being back,” he said.
Good news travels fast in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room as word of the team’s recent acquisition of left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs had players discussing the talents the 29-year-old Ukrainian native will bring to Pittsburgh.
The Penguins acquired Ponikarovsky on Tuesday in exchange for forward Luca Caputi and defenseman Martin Skoula.
Ruslan Fedotenko, who grew up in the same city as Ponikarovsky and played on the same line as him in one game during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, noted how the 6-foot-4, 229-pound winger’s physical strength will help the team to prepare for the upcoming playoff season.
“You try to hit him, and you try to out-muscle him, and it’s pretty tough to go against him,” Fedotenko said. “I obviously follow his NHL career, and he’s been doing really well in Toronto. He’s a big kid – really tall, strong on his skates and drives to the net hard. He can score goals and has good hands, so I think he’s a good addition. I feel like he will open up a little bit more ice in front of the net. I think it will be good. He seems pretty nice and calm.”
“With that big body, he positions himself pretty well in front of the net,” Sergei Gonchar agreed. “The guy is always in the right spot. He has a good shot. He uses his body a lot in the corner, so it’s hard to play against him. Sometimes people don’t recognize how good the player is if he’s playing on a bad team, so I’m sure he’ll surprise a lot of people.”Pascal Dupuis
said adding another forward to the mix also creates a healthy competition between the existing wingers and causes them to play to their best of their abilities.
“Obviously, our team is better now,” he said. “Guys that are playing well are going to play. I guess if you step in the locker room, you have no choice but to compete every night. You have a captain and all the leaders on this team that are demanding nothing but the best effort night after night. Obviously, he will step in here naturally and elevate his game.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma also discussed how the team’s professional scouts particularly noticed Ponikarovsky’s high motivation and energy level with the way that he has been playing for the Leafs, as well as the effort that he has been putting out for the team.
“He’s a 20-goalscorer, and he’s on pace for around 60 points right now,” Bylsma said. “He’ll be the third leading point-getter on our team right now. You’re adding a big body guy who goes to the net. The thing that I liked in watching him play in the past week or so is the way he plays on the defensive side of the puck, as well.
“He’s a guy who plays well there and plays well away from the puck. He’s good in the offensive zone and is good down low. He also has the ability to make a play to his linemates, and that’s what we think we’re getting with Alex coming in.”
Gonchar believes Ponikarovsky will be especially motivated to play for the Penguins since the Toronto Maple Leafs were not able to make the playoffs in recent seasons.
“They didn’t win as many games and now he’s going to compete for the Cup again,” he said. “That will give him the extra energy and motivation, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Although Ponikarovsky has not yet arrived in Pittsburgh due to immigration issues, all of the Penguins are excited to get the opportunity to welcome the newest addition to their team.
“At the end of the day, you look and see if the team is better with the trade or not,” Fedotenko said. “I believe that we’re better now that we’re bringing another good player into it. We get more offensive power. We already have pretty good players there, so I think it’s good.”
Sounds heard from around the Penguins locker room at Southpointe:
Sergei GoncharOn the trade deadline:
I think they are good additions. I like what I’ve seen so far. (General manager) Ray (Shero) always does a good job at the deadline. He picks up guys for us every single year that he’s been here. I think with (Alexei) Ponikarovsky – he’s a big body and a guy who can score, so he’s a good addition. I don’t know who he’s going to play with, but he’s a guy who can help us. With Leo (Jordan Leopold), he’s a good skater and a veteran with experience, so he’s going to help us too. They are good additions for us. I’m happy with what we have right now.On if Ponikarovsky can be compared to Ryan Malone:
They are very similar. Ryan was good creating space for the forwards that he played with. Ponikarovsky is the same way.On how he thinks Leopold fits in with the team:
I think he did really well for his first game. We all know it’s tough to play in the first game, and it’s tough to come to a new team. You don’t have any time to adjust, and he didn’t have any time to practice with us, but I think he did a good job. Pascal DupuisOn playing against Ponikarovsky:
He’s a big body. He goes hard to the net. He’s really strong on the puck. It’s a great addition for us.On Leopold’s first game with the team:
He played well. He’s really good defensively and moves the puck well and skates well. He said that he didn’t feel the best in the first period, but we didn’t see that. He knows his game. He knows what he can bring. I’ve played a lot against him actually when he played in Calgary and Colorado when I was in the Western Conference with Minnesota. He’s a pretty effective defenseman.
Jordan LeopoldOn how he meshes with the team so far:
It’s been great. I got traded last year at the deadline, too. This year was probably a better transition for me with the guys and the system. I’ll grasp more as we go here.On some of the biggest rivalries that he has played in over the years:
I played in Calgary for a good three-and-a-half to four seasons, and Edmonton was always a good one. There are rivalries around, but you have to approach every game the same way and get yourself prepared. You go on and play as a collective group and worry about getting two points. You have lean on the guy next to you and look across the room – whatever it takes to get points and wins. That’s what it’s all about.On if players believe that a rival team is just like any other opponent that they face:
I think, standing-wise, you look at the board, and you have to win games that present themselves. Of course, we want to win all of them, but that’s not going to happen. The biggest thing is that we improve down the stretch here and get our points and go from there.On playing with different defensive partners:
I have more work to do to get myself prepared and be ready to help the team and contribute in whatever way that I can. Last game was a lot of emotion for me, and I’m glad to get that over with. Now, I can relax and get back into my rhythm. Whenever you have a consistent partner, it helps. With me, playing with (Alex) Goligoski last night, it definitely helped. I know him from back home.
Ruslan FedotenkoOn immigration problems for players coming into the country:
Not everybody probably knows, but with guys who come from Europe or even Canada, I’m sure they have a little bit of extra paperwork that they need to do. I talked to (Ponikarovsky) this morning, and he actually already has Canadian citizenship, so I think it will be a little bit easier. You have to give credit to the team and all of those guys who take care of immigration so that we can go out on the ice and perform. He was very excited to come here. He was excited, and he cannot wait. He wanted to be here today, but he’s still waiting for the phone call about the immigration. I talked to him briefly and welcomed him to the team, and he seems very excited and anxious to come in.On if his line with Malkin and Dupuis will get disrupted if Ponikarovsky plays with them:
I don’t know what the lines will be. It’s up to the coaches and up to management. I’m not worried. I’m not trying to think about that. We’ll do our jobs, and we’ll see what happens.On how he reacts to deadline trades when new players are brought onto the team:
At the end of the day, you look and see if the team is better with the trade or not. I believe that we’re better now that we’re bringing another good player into it. We get more offensive power. We already have pretty good players there, so I think it’s good.On Leopold’s first game last night:
I thought he played really well for not having a lot of time to adjust to the system and new players and everything. I felt like it was a good performance by him.Marc-Andre FleuryOn finally getting to practice with the team after getting stuck in traffic yesterday:
It was great to be back with the guys and get a good practice in.On if returning to the game from injuries in the past has helped him to come back after the Olympic break:
It’s never easy to come back when you don’t play for a while. You don’t see any game action. I guess I have some experience with that bad luck, but now I know a little bit more of what to expect. In a couple of practices and a couple of games, we’ll be alright.On if he was surprised that Luongo played for Team Canada as much as he did:
They’re both great goalies, so we were in good shape. Brodeur played well against the Swiss, and Luongo played good in the others.On if he was disappointed that he did not get to play in the Olympics:
I knew that I wasn’t going to play much. They dressed me for one game as a backup, so I got to see the game from up-close. That was pretty fun. On what the practices were like in the Olympics:
We had certain times that we went in, and two guys got most of the shots. I just kind of stood there. At the end, it was pretty quick. We had to catch the bus because of the time limit. I didn’t get to do a whole lot.
Dan BylsmaOn giving Crosby, Malkin and Orpik a rest after playing in the Olympics:
I don’t quite think that they were able to get back on the time schedule even with playing last night. Today is a day for them to catch some of their rest that a lot of us got over the break.On Ponikarovsky’s motivation:
I know in our discussions about the situation, our pro scouts have watched him a lot. They’re calling him a motivated player right now with the way that he’s playing and the effort that he gives out. In a situation in Toronto, he’s a guy who has been working hard. The words “motivated player” have been used on more than one occasion when you talk about this guy. We’re adding a top six forward at this point in time to our team who plays the way we want to play. It’s a great acquisition to have.On how players might react to the team bringing in new guys:
With Anaheim in 2003, they brought in Rob Niedermayer and Steve Thomas. I thought it was a clearest statement of ‘Hey, we’re bringing in pieces to this team who are going to help us win.’ I think that’s a great message to send. That’s what we’re doing. We’re adding pieces to the puzzle. We’re adding a top-four defenseman. We’re adding a top-six forward. We’re trying to put the best team on the ice so that we can win. We won a Cup last year, but this is a message saying that we’re not content. We think that we can win with this team, and we think that we can add a piece to this puzzle or two and make this a better team and a better situation and a chance to play our game and play in the playoffs.On playing the New York Rangers tomorrow night:
I think they are a team that works and forces and tries to put you back and forces you into mistakes. The last two outings against them are clear examples of what you can do and how we can play. If we don’t bring the effort and play the game the way we need to play, it’s going to be a game that they’re going to be in. They got the last one in our building. That’s the one that I remember, and that seems to me like a couple of days ago. We should be ready for a team that’s going to work and force us in all areas of the ice. We have to be on our toes executing and getting on our game, and last night was a great start to that. We have a point to prove again when we get into Madison Square Garden.On acquiring Ponikarovsky:
If you go watch the NHL network right now and TSN, there are a bunch of rumors about a bunch of players out there, and that’s the GMs talking to each other about different situations. Ray Shero said that it’s not so much about the deal as it is the price to get players. Both players were very high on our lists. In both situations, we felt like we had a chance to make a deal that made our team better in certain areas. We didn’t tell you about all the phone calls that he made, but I think clearly when you get a top-four defenseman and top-six winger, these are great additions to the team. I like the way our team is right now.
The Penguins are beginning their Wednesday morning practice. All players are present except for Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Brooks Orpik
, who are resting from the two-week Olympic tournament. Marc-Andre Fleury
, who was the back-up goaltender for Team Canada, is also practicing with the team for the first time since the Olympic break. Fleury missed the team's Tuesday morning skate because he was stuck in traffic.
Recently traded winger Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs will wear No. 23 for the team, while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Chris Connor will wear No. 18 if he is recalled.
Ponikarovsky is currently working out a visa issue and may not be able to join the team for their Thursday contest against the New York Rangers.