Goaltenders can be, as they say, a different breed. Quirky. Offbeat. Former Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is no exception.
“Yeah, he fit the bill,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Sunday with a grin.
Fleury could be making his final appearance in Pittsburgh in uniform Monday when the Minnesota Wild visit PPG Paints Arena.
Fleury, 39, has not committed to playing beyond this season. This is Minnesota’s only trip to Pittsburgh.
With back-to-back games for the Wild Monday and Tuesday, coach John Hynes confirmed that Fleury and Filip Gustavsson would split the games but would not divulge which goalie would start Monday.
Surely Hynes, a former Penguins AHL coach, will do the right thing, eh?
“I would say that there’s probably a pretty good chance we’ll see him,” Crosby said.
Fleury, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Penguins, was with the team for three Stanley Cups. He was a beloved teammate for his quirky personality, his penchant for pranks, his athletic play and competitive drive. He is a sure Hall of Famer, currently with a career record of 548-320-93, a .912 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average in 996 games.
His win total is third all-time in NHL history, three behind Patrick Roy.
Even if he’s stuck sitting on the bench as the backup Monday – again, come on, Hynes – Fleury is likely to get a lot of attention during the game.
The man they call Flower certainly left an impression on his Penguins teammates.
“I think it’s just the way he carries himself, his attitude, coming to the rink to work every single day with a smile on his face, brings energy to this room,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who, along with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was the core players of the franchise for more than a decade.
“And out there, they’re pretty rare — those guys that see every single day as a new opportunity to get better and to enjoy playing hockey. So it was special.”
Fleury left as part of a handshake deal that allowed the Vegas Golden Knights to select him in the 2017 expansion draft, with the Penguins turning to Matt Murray as their new No. 1 goaltender.
Many, including this writer, strongly questioned that move at the time. Many more have hopped on that bandwagon in the interim, even with the emergence of Tristan Jarry.
The current Penguins aren’t getting into that office politics fray, but they made it clear they carry the utmost respect for Fleury.
“He’s been at it for a while,” Crosby said. “A lot of responsibility as a young goalie. A lot of games. He’s had an amazing career. Definitely enjoyed playing with him, and it’s always a challenge playing against him.”
Perhaps the challenge could be even bigger given that the Penguins are coming off a debacle Saturday at Toronto, a 7-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.
“We’ve got to bounce back, got to focus on that,” Crosby said. “I think you just try to be in the moment, whatever it is, but definitely for us I think at this point in time it’s just about us bouncing back.”
But there certainly will be an allowance to appreciate Fleury, even if they will be trying to score on him, and he will be trying just as hard to stop the Penguins.
“You get close to your teammates, close to the organization, the fans, the people from Pittsburgh,” Letang said. “So I’m pretty sure he still thinks of it a little bit, sometimes when he looks back.
“But he’s just a great human being. He always cares about everybody around him, especially the people who cheered for him most of his career.”