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Penguins Penguins: Fleury gets 46 saves in impressive debut

Saturday, October 11, 2003

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will remember the 46 saves he made in his first NHL start for a long time. So will most of his teammates, and pretty much the entire standing-room crowd of 16,986 that watched it at Mellon Arena last night.

Marc-Andre Fleury makes one of his 46 saves in his pro hockey debut last night at Mellon Arena. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

 

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It's the rest of the game that Fleury -- and everyone else who doesn't draw a paycheck from the Los Angeles Kings -- will try to forget. Never mind that doing so might take a long time, and perhaps some serious counseling.

For Los Angeles didn't just beat the Penguins, 3-0, in their regular-season opener. The Kings built a 49-11 edge in shots, and left the Penguins' zone only when the ice was being resurfaced. Los Angeles had a man-advantage for much of the game, and looked as if it did even when the manpower was even.

Remove Fleury from the mix, and his teammates lose by at least a touchdown. That's why no one complained about the losing goalie being named the game's No. 1 star.

"He played awesome," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I don't think anyone expected him to play that well, especially when he only skated two days after taking about a week off. ... He played out of his mind. That was probably the only encouraging part of the game."

Probably? Unless the Penguins figure that holding the Kings' shot total under triple-figures is reason to be pleased with themselves, there's no probably about it.

Fleury punctuated his NHL debut by denying Kings center Esa Pirnes on a penalty shot with 2:20 left in regulation. Pirnes moved down the slot and was preparing to get off a shot when Fleury poked the puck off his stick.

That sequence didn't affect the outcome, but did give the crowd yet another opportunity to rattle the roof with chants of "Fleu-ree, Fleu-ree."

"That's special," Fleury said.

Fleury's work completely overshadowed the performance of Kings goalie Cristobal Huet, who faced more shots in the second period (six) than he did in the first and third combined.

Huet earned just his fifth victory in the NHL, two of which have come at Mellon Arena.

For the Kings, the game was a satisfying rebound from a last-second, 3-2 defeat in Detroit 24 hours earlier. For the Penguins, it was a near-total meltdown, as they lost just about everything imaginable, including their composure: Two players, winger Reid Simpson and Orpik, receive game misconducts in the final five minutes of the second period.

Simpson got a major penalty for checking Pirnes from behind at 15:11 -- Trent Klatt scored the Kings' second goal on a deflection 32 seconds later -- and Orpik picked up a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure at 19:47, when he threw out his left leg and caused contact in the neutral zone with Kings defenseman Tim Gleason, who did not return because of a bruised leg.

"I saw the guy put his head down and I went for him," Orpik said. "It happened so quick, I don't know [what happened].

"It was kind of a reaction. I wasn't going after him that way. I was just trying to take him out."

Orpik is expected to have a hearing with league officials today, which means his status for the Penguins' game at 7:08 p.m. in Philadelphia is uncertain.

The Simpson and Gleason penalties -- Olczyk attributed Simpson's infraction to unfortunate timing, not malice aforethought -- accounted for three of the seven power plays the Kings enjoyed, and Olczyk pointed out that about half of Los Angeles' shots came when it was up a man.

Of course, that leaves a couple dozen at even-strength, which was far more than the Penguins managed to generate. The Penguins hadn't been in a game since their exhibition finale 12 nights earlier, and the layoff showed.

"I don't think anyone saw it coming," Orpik said. "Everyone's energy was there. I just don't think it was really channeled in the right ways. Everyone was on a different page, I guess."

More like looking at different books. If not hanging out in different libraries.

Eric Belanger got the only goal Los Angeles needed when he beat Fleury on a short-handed breakaway 38 seconds into the game -- Fleury, like Mario Lemieux, had a goal to show for his first pro shot -- but that early adversity only seemed to sharpen Fleury's focus.

"For him to bounce back the way he did and show a lot of resiliency," Olczyk said. "That's why he was the best player in the draft, and that's why we have him."

Klatt gave the Kings some insurance with his power-play goal late in the second, and Zigmund Palffy closed out the scoring by hitting an empty net at 19:22 of the third, none of which stripped any luster from Fleury's performance.

"He showed he has great talent," Lemieux said. "The way he played is very encouraging."

And the way his teammates did was not.

Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.

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