Fleury starting to feel frisky again

December, 12, 2008
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury won't start Saturday in Philadelphia, but just having the uniform and pads back on after nearly a month on the shelf is good enough for him.

"I'm really happy just to be in the lineup," Fleury told ESPN.com Friday. "I couldn't wait to get back. Our next game after tomorrow isn't for a bit, so that'll give me a little more time to get ready."

Fleury will back up Dany Sabourin on Saturday and likely get his first start since Nov. 15 next Thursday at Atlanta. He's been out with a "lower body" injury (groin/leg), and it's been killing him.

"Before last season, I had never really had any injuries in all my years in hockey," Fleury said. "It's frustrating. It's hard to not be around the guys and not being able to contribute."

Pittsburgh went 5-5-2 with Fleury out. Top defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have been out all season, while others have been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Still, the Penguins have remained in the mix with the Rangers and Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead. "That was one of our strengths last year, [playing through] all our injuries," said Fleury, who along with Sidney Crosby missed a couple of months last season. "Everyone stepped up and contributed, and again this season guys have found a way. We've had some young defensemen that have done a good job, and Dany obviously has made the saves we needed."

Care to play this team in the playoffs once the Pens have all their bodies back?

"We came close last season," Fleury said, referring to his team's Cup final loss to Detroit. "A lot of us gained important experience. We got a taste of it. Our goal this time is to finish it."

The Rangers have led the Atlantic Division all season long, but we predict the Penguins will take it before season's end.

Bouwmeester bringing his A-game
Craig Anderson isn't the only reason the Florida Panthers are hanging on in the playoff race. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his past 14 games entering Friday night's game at Calgary, and has picked up his game after a slow start to the season.

"He's played really, really well," Panthers GM Jacques Martin told ESPN.com Friday.

But will he finish the season in South Florida? There's a very simple answer to that question: If he signs a contract extension before the March 4 trade deadline, then yes. If he hasn't signed, he's gone, because we highly doubt the Panthers would want to let him walk away July 1 as an unrestricted free agent and receive nothing in return. Martin wouldn't speculate on all that, saying only that he's going to talk to Bouwmeester's agent again next month. (Because he signed a one-year deal last summer Bouwmeester can't sign an extension until Jan. 1 anyway. It's a CBA rule.)

"We'll see what happens in January," Martin said. "We obviously want to sign him."

No Sundin in Boston
We didn't get the chance to respond to one Bruins fan during our one-hour chat Friday, but the reader wanted to know if Boston would take a run at free-agent center Mats Sundin. We wanted to check with the Bruins before answering, even though we were pretty sure we already knew. Indeed, the answer is no.

Sundin is meeting with the Rangers this weekend while he's in New York.

Vancouver, Montreal and Chicago are also keenly interested. He could be signed, if all goes well, by the end of next week.

Ricky D
Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro could resume practicing with teammates sometime next week. He's missed most of the season after having knee surgery in October. If all goes well, he might play a game or two before Christmas.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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