Marc-Andre Fleury (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Penguins and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have been tight-lipped about his potential return from a concussion in time for Game 1 of the post-season, but Fleury practiced for the second-straight day Tuesday and could be between the pipes Wednesday against the New York Rangers.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams heading into the post-season and they’ve shown few flaws since the start of 2016, but as Game 1 of the first-round matchup against the New York Rangers approaches, injuries have threatened to create a glaring hole between the pipes.
With a handful of games remaining in the regular season, netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, 31, went down with a concussion and missed the final five outings of the season. Luckily for the Penguins, backup netminder Matt Murray, 21, has shown he’s capable of carrying the load as the starter. As luck would have it, Murray, too, found himself out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury after a collision with Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn in the final game of the season.
However, it appears Fleury may be nearing a return, though neither the Penguins nor Fleury have confirmed that will be the case. Fleury returned to practice Monday in full equipment and he was back on the ice again Tuesday, taking part in his second full practice in as many days. That’s a good sign, to be sure, but Fleury would only say that he’s taking a wait-and-see approach following Monday’s practice.
“It’s one day at a time now,” Fleury said. “This was my first practice, so we’ll see how it goes the next few days. Hopefully everything’s good.”
Fleury added he had been working out for “three or four days” leading up to Monday’s skate, but admitted he was hoping to get into one of the final games of the regular season in order to be prepared for the post-season and get up to full speed. That didn’t come to pass, and Fleury said now he’ll have to make the most of the practices in order to prepare for game action.
If Fleury is back and completely healthy, that’s great news for the Penguins, but there’s reason to be concerned about Fleury rushing himself back into action. Again, Fleury didn’t say one way or the other that he would be in goal for the Penguins for Wednesday’s game, but that he’s practiced two days in a row less than two weeks after suffering his most recent head injury means he’s probably angling to return as soon as he can. Keep in mind this is Fleury’s second concussion this season after he missed eight games earlier in the campaign with a similar injury.
It’s not as if the Penguins don’t have backup options, but the thing is they may end up being nothing more than that: options. Jeff Zatkoff was the reliever when Murray went down with his injury and Tristan Jarry was brought up from the AHL after it was announced Murray was sidelined. However, if Tuesday’s practice is any indication, it seems increasingly likely Fleury will be back by Wednesday and Jarry will be watching from the sidelines. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari, Jarry saw very little action while Fleury and Zatkoff took the bulk of the shots. That doesn’t mean Fleury’s return is set in stone, but it certainly makes it more likely.
There’s little doubt that being without Fleury — or Murray for that matter — hurts the Penguins’ chances against the Rangers, but Pittsburgh has been inarguably one of the most impressive clubs over the past three months. Even without Fleury, they could beat the Rangers. And as hard as it may be to win the opening round without Fleury, it will be exponentially more difficult to win without him come the second- or third-round if Fleury falls injured again because he rushed back. That might be worth considering as the Penguins head into Game 1, but no matter who starts for Pittsburgh, the goaltending situation will be something to watch closely.