Fleury, red-hot Pens take on Jets

(SportsNetwork.com) – Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has
put his faith, and a nice chunk of change, in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Few could blame him given Fleury’s hot start to the season.

Fresh off of signing a contract extension that is set to keep him in
Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future, Fleury will try to lead the Penguins to
their sixth straight victory on Thursday night in a meeting with the Winnipeg

The Penguins announced a four-year, $23 million extension for Fleury on
Wednesday, with the deal set to kick in next season. That locks up the club’s
all-time leader in regular-season victories (295) and shutouts (31), though
opens Rutherford up to criticism should Fleury continue his erratic postseason

Fleury, the first overall pick of the 2003 draft, helped lead Pittsburgh to a
Stanley Cup title in 2009, but is just 52-40 in 93 playoff games and even saw
himself benched during a first-round series with the New York Islanders in

However, the goaltender has been a solid option during the regular season and
has opened his 11th NHL campaign with a 7-2-0 record, 1.89 goals against
average and .931 save percentage with three shutouts.

“I believe in Marc-Andre Fleury, as the team does,” Rutherford said in a
statement. “He’s won before and he will win again. We’re very pleased to have
him signed long term.”

Fleury’s three shutouts this season have come in his past four starts and he
has stopped a total of 54 shots in back-to-back shutout wins over Los Angeles
and Buffalo. He is 17-5-0 with a 2.37 GAA and .913 save percentage in his
career versus the Jets franchise.

Despite his recent run, Penguins coach Mike Johnston opted to start backup
Thomas Greiss in Tuesday’s contest with the Minnesota Wild. The move worked,
with Greiss making 33 saves in a 4-1 win and extending Pittsburgh’s shutout
streak to 205 minutes and 28 seconds before allowing a goal midway through the
third period.

“We kept a lot of stuff to the outside. It made my life easier,” Greiss said.
“I think our defense did a really good job clearing rebounds.”

Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist all scored for
the Penguins, who with five straight wins are on their longest winning streak
since taking seven straight from Dec. 9-21 of last year. They won the opener
of a five-game swing on Tuesday.

Kunitz picked up his fifth goal and eighth point in his past four games, while
Evgeni Malkin logged an assist to give him a point in all 11 games this
season. He has five goals and 11 helpers.

Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta did not play as he underwent successful
surgery Tuesday to remove a tumor in his thyroid gland. He is expected to
return to the lineup within the next four weeks.

The Penguins have won each of their past four meetings with the Jets as well
as 19 of the last 22 encounters overall. They have also claimed eight of the
last 11 road meetings with the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise.

The Jets, though, come in on their own hot streak, having allowed just six
goals over a 5-0-1 burst. They recorded consecutive shutout wins against the
New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks before besting the Nashville Predators
3-1 on Tuesday.

Ondrej Pavelec made 23 saves and has stopped 88 of the 90 shots he has faced
in his last three games. He extended Winnipeg’s franchise-record shutout
streak to 164:44 before yielding a goal early in the second period.

“Wins change the pressure on the bench, and the confidence,” said Winnipeg
head coach Paul Maurice. “Then as you get further and further into a rhythm of
doing the same things over and over again in your own end you start to feel
comfortable there. We made some mistakes and had some things go away from us
at times, but success makes everything feel a little bit better, and a little
more calm.”

Pavelec, though, is just 2-12-2 lifetime versus the Penguins with a 4.33 GAA
and .867 save percentage.

He was backed on Tuesday by power-play goals from Andrew Ladd and Mark
Scheifele, while Blake Wheeler added an empty-net goal in Winnipeg’s third
straight win.