It’s easy to overreact after one game and say that the Penguins are an unbeatable team. It’s impossible to go 82-0.
Big goals from Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins in a good place throughout most of the game. But one performance trumps all in Thursday night’s opening game victory against the Washington Capitals.
That performance would be of the goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Pushing his record to 8-4 in his career on opening night, Fleury showed up big time as he usually does. But Thursday night’s felt like more of a statement than just “Flower being Flower”. The performance wasn’t just something Flower wanted. He NEEDED this kind of game.
For the first time in 12 years (I’m well aware that’s a long time), Fleury went into the opening game not penciled in as the team’s absolute number one goalie after rookie sensation Matt Murray swept the headlines as the Penguins netminder through the playoffs last year when Fleury went down with a concussion.
Just as Murray took Fleury’s job last season when the untimely injury forced Fleury to sit out almost every game of the playoffs except for game five of the Eastern Conference Finals, Fleury’s trying to take back his job with Murray out. That game was the last time Fleury got any playing time. He gave up four goals on 23 shots and hadn’t looked good doing it.
Thursday night, Fleury looked good doing it. In fact, he looked incredible doing it.
His Capitals counterpart, Braden Holtby, didn’t go down without a fight. The Capitals put a constant barrage of shots on Fleury, which made him stick out as he saved 39 of 41 rubbers that were shot his way.
Fleury was more than capable of shutting down the Capitals completely if defenseman Olli Maatta hadn’t factored in a turnover that led to both Washington goals.
For a guy who supportively, yet quietly, watched as his eventual successor Murray pushed him ever so slightly out of the cage once Flower returned from injury, no one was more deserving than Fleury for tonight.
If he wasn’t the most outspoken human being you’d ever meet, Fleury would be the first to say he wouldn’t have this any other way.
He knew the pressure that would come with Matt Murray being in the locker room dressed to play on the same night as him. He knew that the biggest storyline the Penguins may face all years is how they’re going to handle their goaltending situation for this year and beyond. He knew this.
So in game one of eighty-two, with no pressure from a second starting goalie breathing down his back, we saw the Flower. We saw the Marc-Andre Fleury we all know and love. He was loose. He was calm. He was his flopping, athletic, usual self. The job is his currently and he intends to keep it even when Murray is healthy.
Lest you forget, had the Penguins not had number 29 in net to start last season, who knows where the Penguins journey would’ve taken them. He single handedly won them games time after time until Mike Johnston was fired. This was without a goalie capable of taking his job being on the roster.
The competition is inviting to Fleury, but he has no intention of losing his starting job. Despite what the rumors and body language says about the healthy goalie relationship, that man is as competitive as anyone in that locker room. He’s one of, if not, the most respected guy in the locker room.
That’s the beauty of this Flower. This Flower blooms in October and lasts clear through to June. From time-to-time, it may look weathered away but it never dies. It fights on. This Flower doesn’t need soil to thrive. All it wants is to be put on a bright stage as we watch it grow no matter how old it may be.
Kudos to you, Marc-Andre. Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout victory was as much about you as anyone else on the ice.