The first time Marc-Andre Fleury played against his old team, back in December in Las Vegas, he didn’t do much of his trademark chirping.
Perhaps he was shell-shocked by facing the players he was teammates and friends with for so many years.
While his return to PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night was even more emotional than the December contest, enough shock had worn off for Fleury to get his mouth running a little bit.
“A little bit, here and there,” Fleury said. “I got Geno on the breakaway, got him (with a) poke-check, so I let him know. Phil wanted one. He hit the post a few times and he kept telling me he was coming back, and he did get one.”
The breakaway Fleury referred to came in the second period. Evgeni Malkin slipped in alone on net, and when he tried to go to his backhand, Fleury poked the puck away like he has to so many Penguins opponents over the past decade.
Phil Kessel, meanwhile, hit a crossbar in the first period and the post to Fleury’s right in the second before finally scoring in the third.
After each shot hit iron, Fleury dutifully thanked the goal frame behind him, as is his custom.
The first goal Fleury gave up came off the stick of Ryan Reaves, who was never his teammate. The next four were scored by players — Ian Cole, Jake Guentzel, Malkin and Kessel — Fleury knows well.
Perhaps too well.
“Sometimes, I caught myself thinking too much, what they like to do, their tendencies,” Fleury said. “I’ve seen a lot. It’s OK. Hopefully, it will get easier to play them as it goes on.”
Overall, despite the 5-4 final score in favor of the Penguins, Fleury said it was a special night for him.
The outpouring of emotional support he received from Penguins fans, including a long, loud ovation after a tribute was played on the video board in the first period, was appreciated, he said.
“Just in warm-ups, I had goose bumps,” Fleury said. “People that came with their cards and kind words. That’s a night I won’t forget. I’ll forget the score …
“There was lots going on, lots of happiness and emotions, stress. But it was worth it.”