Penguins' Fleury Stays Positive Despite Benching
PITTSBURGH -- If being benched during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the toughest period of Marc-Andre Fleury's professional career, he isn't letting it affect his demeanor.
The Pittsburgh Penguins goalie known for his boyish smile and friendly disposition delivered a few dry one-liners during one of his first extended sessions with the media since losing his starting job after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Asked what he's been working on in practice, Fleury smiled and said, "Stopping the puck."
What's different about not playing as opposed to playing?
"You're a lot less tired when you don't play," Fleury said with a chuckle.
Fleury later laughed when asked if he'd gone this long without playing -- not counting the offseason or because of injury.
Of course he hasn't. Yet hearing him talk, it might have been difficult to realize that, for the first time since he was an 18-year-old rookie in 2003-04, Fleury was not considered the No. 1 goalie for his team.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma turned to veteran Tomas Vokoun after Fleury allowed six goals in a Game 4 loss to the New York Islanders in the first round. That capped a three-game stretch in which he was beaten 14 times. Vokoun has allowed a total of 14 goals while going 6-1 in the seven games since.
But if Fleury is upset about being demoted, he remains steadfast in saying all the right things.
"Like anybody else not playing right now on the team, we all love the game and we all want to play," Fleury said. "But it's not about individuals -- it's about the team."
Fleury had started every Stanley Cup Playoff game the Penguins played since his postseason debut in 2007. It had been 12 years since anyone other than "Flower" was between the pipes for the opening faceoff in a postseason game for Pittsburgh when Vokoun started Game 5 against the Islanders.
Fleury took Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final twice, backstopping the team to the title in 2009. But with Vokoun playing superbly, there's no guarantee Fleury will get another shot to play in a Final should the Penguins defeat the Boston Bruins in the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals.
"It's not about me -- it's about the team," Fleury said. "It's about winning, and that's what we've been doing, so I'm happy for the guys who I've been playing with here a long time. I want to see them do well -- and they're winning, so I'm happy."
Fleury said he hasn't allowed himself to think beyond this postseason and what the ramifications of losing his starting job will mean next season or in the future. He also said he is approaching practice similar to the way he would if he was still starting -- he and Vokoun appear to be approaching drills the same way they have in the past.
"The success of the team for Marc is a big thing, and that's what he's concerned with when he's in the net ... and I think not winning in Round 1 was tough," Bylsma said. "It's tough not going in the net as that series ended, but I know he's been just as excited about the success of the team whether he's been in the net or not.
"He's been excited about what Tomas has gone in and done as a goalie. And he's done an amazing job at being focused with his practice and what he's done in practice to be ready to go in when he gets that opportunity to stop the puck when that comes."
Vokoun and Fleury have a noticeably strong relationship. Vokoun has also maintained that, though he would like to play, as any competitor would, the No. 1 goal is claiming the Stanley Cup.
Fleury sees it as his obligation to the teammates to provide the best goaltending he can during practice so they can best work on their shots. As long as he does that, Fleury figures, the result will be he has no choice but to stay at the top of his game.
"We have a good bunch of guys here to practice with, so it's easy to get a good sweat and work hard," Fleury said. "Guys stay on the ice [after practice] and take shots, so that's where it comes from. Practice hard, and you'll stay sharp."