Fleury set to step up as Penguins host Canadiens (Dec 31, 2016)
PITTSBURGH -- Finding one reliable goalie can be a challenge to an NHL coach.
The Pittsburgh Penguins own two such goalies, and the importance of possessing that depth is evident to coach Mike Sullivan.
With the Penguins rolling along with an 11-1-2 record in December heading into their New Year's Eve game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, an injury to Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray could have been disruptive.
Instead, Sullivan is plugging in another Stanley Cup winner, franchise netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who is playing his best hockey of the season.
"In times like this, we're fortunate we have two guys who are capable as these two guys are," Sullivan said. "We believe we have two No. 1 goaltenders. We've tried to manage these guys in such a way we keep both in it. I believe they have responded well."
Fleury couldn't have responded much better Wednesday night, coming off the bench after two periods with the Penguins down 2-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes and Murray hurting with a lower-body injury. Fleury went on to stop all 19 shots he faced as the Penguins rallied to win 3-2 - the seventh time they've won when trailing after two periods this season.
Fleury beat the New Jersey Devils in a home-and-home series before that game, and he's 5-0-1 in his last six games - a big improvement over his 6-5-3 record to start the season.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien knows the value of a strong backup goalie, too. Al Montoya doesn't get much playing time behind All-Star goalie Carey Price, but he shut out the Penguins 4-0 on Oct. 18 by making 36 saves. Montoya also was in net for a 3-2 win Thursday at Florida that ended an 0-2-1 stretch for the Canadiens (22-9-5).
"We didn't quit, and we were deserving of that win," Therrien said.
Fleury doesn't know if he'll be with the Penguins (24-8-5) at the end of the season - Murray has a new three-year contract, and Fleury could be dealt at the trading deadline. So, for now, he's trying to make the best of sharing a job that, for more than a decade, was his alone.
"It's a long season and a lot of things can happen -- it's very close to make the playoffs, every night is important, and (getting) two points is fortunate," Fleury said. "So it's fortunate we have good guys who can play."
Plus a couple of centers who can play the game, too.
Sidney Crosby is on a season-long scoring surge with 26 goals in 31 games, and a goal in each of his last five games. Evgeni Malkin (39 points) is also among the league's top three scorers and has six goals and 19 points in 14 games this month.
Crosby is scoring goals at a nearly goal-a-game pace, which has been seldom seen since the 1980s. Sullivan is appreciative of what he's seeing from the two-time Stanley Cup champion captain on a nightly basis.
"He's playing inspiring hockey for us," Sullivan said. "He can beat you so many different ways. He can play a power game. He can play a finesse game, he can beat you off the rush, he can beat you in a grind game underneath the hash marks, Sid can generate offense in various ways. That's what makes him as good as he is.
"It's hard to score in this league. Teams defend hard. Goaltending is as good as it's ever been, so it's hard to score. The way he's playing right now, to accomplish what he is at this point of the season, it's just been tremendous to watch. He's as driven a guy as I've seen in the game. He has an insatiable appetite to be the best."
It's also hard to stay around long in the league, yet Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber will play in his 800th career game Saturday night - probably with Price back in goal. Weber spent his first 11 seasons with the Nashville Predators before being dealt to Montreal last summer.
"It feels like it just started, but it's been a long time," Weber told the team's website. "Some guys don't get the chance to play for a long time. You've got to enjoy every minute. And, before you know it, you get to 800 games. I've been very fortunate."