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Penguins Fleury makes sparkling first impression on Kings

Saturday, October 11, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Alexander Frolov is no straight-bladed, stone-handed stiff when it comes to shooting a puck. He had 14 goals as an NHL rookie last season and is considered among the Los Angeles Kings' finest prospects, in large part because of his ability to finish.

Which is why coach Andy Murray deployed him as the trigger man on the power play against the Penguins last night.

And which is partly why no one among the 16,986 jamming Mellon Arena last night, nor anyone on either bench, nor Frolov could believe the save Marc-Andre Fleury made on him in the second period.

"Oh ... crazy," Frolov said in his thick Russian accent, shaking his head shortly after the Kings' 3-0 victory. "I mean, my job there is to score goals. That's what I do on plays like that. That ... I still can't understand how that happened."

It started with a pass from Zigmund Palffy at the right point to center Jozef Stumpel at the bottom of the right circle. Stumpel, a premier set-up man, glided closer to the net and gift-wrapped a lateral feed for Frolov at the left edge of Fleury's crease.

Frolov made no mistake with the puck, one-timing it with authority and accurately aiming it toward the near post, as far away from Fleury as possible. Exactly the way goal-scorers do it.

And then ...

"His leg went there," Frolov said. "There was no leg there. Then, there was a leg there."

Fleury jutted out his right leg with blinding speed and barely glanced the puck with his right skate, enough to force it to change direction slightly and skip off the side of the goal.

"I mean, we all heard he was fast," Frolov said. "But that's really fast."

The rest of the Kings were no less effusive in their praise of Fleury's NHL debut. They outshot the Penguins, 49-11, and dominated them in every capacity. But if anyone was going to take issue with Fleury being named No. 1 star by the Pittsburgh media, it was not going to be in the Los Angeles locker room. Not after they converted only two of 48 attempts on him, those coming on a clean breakaway by center Eric Belanger and a power-play deflection by right winger Trent Klatt.

Right winger Jon Sim and left winger Luc Robitaille chatted loudly about Fleury in the middle of the room while riding exercise bikes.

Sim: "He stoned me twice. How many times did he get you?"

Robitaille: "I don't know. Did you see the way he moved across the net? That kid's 18 years old."

Sim: "I know. Unbelievable. How big do you think that puck looked like to him out there? Beach ball?"

Robitaille: "Bigger."

Murray was not among those surprised by Fleury's showing. His son, Brady, a forward at the University of North Dakota, competed against Fleury at the camp for Canada's national junior team this summer in Calgary, Alberta.

"You could tell he was a real talent," Murray said. "And obviously now ... they've got a major cult hero here who's a little older, and they've got a young cult hero now, too. You know, you only have one chance to make a first impression in life, and he made a great first impression here."

Defenseman Tim Gleason exhaled and raised his eyebrows before responding to a question about Fleury.

"That was pretty outstanding, huh?" he said. "I mean, look at what he was doing for them. What else can you ask for from your goaltender?"

The Kings had cause to be pleased with more than beating Fleury twice, though. They were coming off an agonizing, 3-2 defeat in Detroit the previous night, having allowed the Red Wings' Steve Yzerman to net the winner with 1.7 seconds left. They also were missing seven players, then lost Gleason for the third period because of a bruised knee. Four of the injured are among their best players in center Jason Allison, right winger Adam Deadmarsh and defensemen Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom.

But Murray wanted no part of excuses, even after the inspired effort.

"We had 20 guys dressed tonight, and that's all the league allows for a game," he said. "We played hard."

That is not entirely accurate.

At the opposite end from Fleury was Cristobal Huet, the Kings' sparingly used, journeyman backup goaltender who did not need to stop a dozen shots for his first NHL shutout and fifth career victory. When Huet met with reporters minutes after the game, not a bead of sweat was visible.

He was asked in jest if he would have preferred to switch sides with Fleury.

"Not really," he replied with a little laugh. "I want to play with the team that wins."

Turning serious, he offered a tribute to Fleury's work that was no less glowing than his teammates'.

"Their goalie kept them in the game. He was great."


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1938.

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