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Fleury doing everything right so far

Karen Price

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury got a step closer to making the Penguins’ roster Wednesday when he survived another round of training camp cuts.

But that shouldn’t come as a surprise after the way the 18-year-old No. 1 overall draft pick has performed so far. Even those close to Fleury who doubted his readiness for the NHL in the days leading up to training camp are starting to have second thoughts.

After getting his first win Tuesday night against a Boston Bruins team that featured Joe Thornton, Brian Rolston and Glen Murray, among others, Fleury is 1-1 and has allowed only three goals on 53 shots for a 1.52 goals-against average.

Fleury is young, coming straight out of juniors, has tremendous pressure on him and is with a rebuilding team that’s dangerously short on experience. What the Penguins’ decision-makers are finding out now is that he’s also tremendously skilled, confident and easy-going — perhaps even enough to beat the odds and make the team this year.

“He hasn’t shown too many weaknesses, I’ll tell you that,” said Penguins assistant general manager and former NHL goaltender Eddie Johnston. “He’s as good as I’ve seen come in this league in a long time. He looks like he has all the tools to be in this league a long time and be one of the best.”

Johnston saw what few outside of the pre-game crowd at the Halifax Metro Centre saw Tuesday. Fleury likes to end his warm-up session by having about five to eight players stand just outside his crease and keep shooting on him until someone scores. The drill, which isn’t unique to Fleury, can last anywhere from a few seconds to perhaps two minutes.

“(The players) couldn’t score on him for about four minutes, and they were getting frustrated,” Johnston said. “Then they finally scored on him, and the people gave him a standing ovation. That’s how competitive he is.”

For Fleury to be on the roster on opening night, Oct. 10, he would have to oust one of the incumbents — more likely Jean-Sebastien Aubin than Sebastien Caron. But GM Craig Patrick said it isn’t just a matter of Fleury outplaying either Aubin or Caron.

“That’s not the way we’re looking at it,” he said. “There are a lot of things to consider. But his performance is the major percentage of all the things we have to consider. And his performance has been pretty darn good so far.”

The Penguins still have to sign Fleury to a contract before the deadline of 3 p.m. Oct. 6, the last day of the sliding scale by which to either sign junior players or return them to their teams. Patrick said he doesn’t know if the contract will be a concern or not because he hasn’t opened negotiations with agent Allan Walsh.

He also said that the Penguins’ staff has not yet talked formally about Fleury but that they’ll “probably have to address it some time next week.”

The Penguins have three preseason games left, and coach Eddie Olczyk said yesterday that Caron will play in the lone home game Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He hasn’t set a roster past that, but it’s safe to assume that Fleury will appear in at least one more game.

“We’ve got limited time to make a decision, so we’re trying to take advantage of every minute,” Patrick said.


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