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Fleury set for NHL debut in Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - Goaltender , the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, makes his professional debut tonight when his invite the Los Angeles to the Igloo for Pittsburgh's opener. Fleury was taken with the top selection after the Pens moved up and secured the choice. The 18-year-old phenom was drafted out of Cape Breton of the QMJHL and signed a contract on Monday, just before a deadline that would have forced him to spend the season in Juniors had he not inked a deal.

Head coach Ed Olczyk, making his own NHL debut behind the bench tonight, then made the announcement Thursday that Fleury would indeed start the opener.

"For sure, I want to [play]," said Fleury. "It's a dream to be playing in the NHL. I will realize that [tonight]. I didn't know what to expect. Even if I would have been here the whole week, I wouldn't have expected to be playing, but I'm really happy that I will be. I felt better today than yesterday, and I think [tonight] should be better again."

There is some concern that Fleury will have some rust to shake off, because before Thursday he hadn't practiced in roughly a week. He returned to Canada at the end of contract negotiations and immigration issues kept him there temporarily.

The hope Fleury can be some sort of savior on the heels of their second straight campaign out of the playoffs. In 2002-03, and Co. logged a meager 65 points, good for the second- worst record in the entire league. In addition to futility on the ice, the financially strapped club continued unloading its high-priced talent, shipping right wing Alex Kovalev to the NY last winter.

Lemieux, who decided to return rather than retire, is the obvious catalyst of the Pens' offense. He managed to play in 67 games last season -- after missing most of the previous one -- and led the team with 28 goals and 63 assists. However, having a 91-point scorer the caliber of Lemieux didn't spark Pittsburgh enough to make a difference, as the team placed 26th in the NHL with 189 goals scored. In all, the were shut out 10 times over the course of the season.

Lemieux, Fleury and Co. will face a team trying to rebound from a season-opening 3-2 loss in Detroit. After the teams volleyed back and forth throughout the match, the ' beat new LA goaltender for the game-winner with only 1.7 seconds remaining. Detroit had tied things via a marker with under 3:45 left in the third.

and Ziggy Palffy scored in defeat, while Cechmanek finished with 35 saves in his debut.

There was some bad news on the injury front for the , who were already playing without Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh. Captain and defensive anchor suffered an arm injury and is expected to miss at least two games.

The will finish their season-opening road trip Sunday in Chicago, before playing seven straight in Los Angeles. That home set will begin next Wednesday versus Ottawa.

LA swept two games from Pittsburgh last season and is 6-0-1 in the last seven meetings. The Pens have not beaten the since January 16, 1999.

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