VANCOUVER, B.C. – Theoren Fleury passed another test along his improbable comeback trail Monday night.
Fleury showed that he could withstand the rigours of back-to-back games after being away from the NHL for six years as his Calgary Flames dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Vancouver Canucks.
The 41-year-old former star, who has battled alcohol and substance abuse problems, assisted on Jay Bouwmeester’s goal, which forged a 3-3 tie after the Flames had trailed 2-0 early.
Fleury, however, was not satisfied with his effort as the Canucks improved their pre-season record to a perfect 5-0 and the Flames dropped to 2-3.
“I probably could have played a little better,” said Fleury. “It was one of those games, you know. When you’ve been around this long, you just get ready for tomorrow and practice well and keep movin’ along.”
Daniel Sedin was the offensive catalyst for the Canucks, scoring two goals in regulation and adding the shootout winner.
Sedin’s second goal with only 0.2 seconds left in the third period forced overtime and the shootout after Olli Jokinen had staked the Flames to a 5-4 lead after a high Nigel Dawes shot went in off him during a four-on-three power play at 12:51 of the third.
With the assist, Fleury, who is on a tryout with Calgary, has points in all three of his pre-season appearances. He has recorded a shootout winner, a regulation-time goal and two assists.
It was also Fleury’s first road game since being reinstated by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman from an indefinite suspension that stemmed from his off-ice woes.
“It was fine,” he said. “I came into camp in really good shape, so it’s not a big deal to play back to back. It was an hour flight (Sunday) night, so it’s nothing.”
It looked like Fleury was going to spark the Flames to a comeback after they trailed 2-0 and 3-2 by periods. With just over a minute gone in the third, Fleury started the scoring play that led to Bouwmeester’s tying goal. As he took a hard check along the right boards, Fleury sent the puck to Brandon Prust, who then fed Bouwmeester.
“It’s all right,” said Fleury about extending his points streak. “I didn’t really have any expectations. I just wanted to come and have some fun and see how far (the comeback) will go . . . It hasn’t been that bad. I’m a highly motivated guy.
“Once I got into the gym and started getting some cold results, it was kind of easy after that.”
Sedin’s shootout winner came after Canucks rookie Cody Hodgson and Dawes had exchanged goals in the opening round.
Kyle Wellwood, on a penalty shot, and Mason Raymond also scored for the Canucks. Raymond had a goal disallowed with 10.1 seconds left in the third as the referees ruled he poked the puck through kneeling Calgary goaltender Curtis McElhinney’s legs after the whistle.
Sedin then one-timed a Christian Ehrhoff pass along the ice and through McElhinney’s knees again just before regulation time expired.
Curtis Glencross, Jamie Lundmark also scored for the Flames.
Fleury rekindled his love-hate relationship with Vancouver fans. The crowd jeered Fleury in the final minute of the first period as he wrestled with O’Brien and Alex Burrows behind the Canucks net after a whistle.
Burrows received a roughing penalty for his part in the skirmish, but Fleury went unpenalized. Fleury known for his feisty play and arguing with referees said he’s trying to be on his best behaviour.
“It’s important that, this time around, you just go out and play – and have fun,” he said.
So far, he has kept his composure, said longtime Flames radio play-by-play caller Peter Maher.
“He got a penalty the other night and he went straight to the penalty box,” said Maher, who’s been calling Flames games since the early 1980s. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Theo take a penalty and not argue with the referees on the way to the penalty box. He’s really different in that way.”
But Maher said Fleury, who was not called upon in the shootout Monday, has not lost his desire to be the go-to guy when a game is on the line. That desire and his willingness to share the story about his woes, are the two main effects that he’s having on Calgary’s players.
“I don’t know how much he appreciated, when he was a star player on the team, being able to play in the NHL,” said Maher. “But now, he really appreciates the opportunity that he’s been given and he’s really grasping it.”
Notes: Goaltender Cory Schneider recorded his second pre-season win as the Canucks outshot the Flames 34-17 . . . Vancouver prospect Hodgson played his second straight game after missing three while recuperating from an off-season back injury . . . Flames captain Jarome Iginla and defenceman Dion Phaneuf had the night off . . . Fleury said he will accept a posting to the Flames’ minor league club in Abbotsford, B.C., if requested, but he would have to clear waivers first . . . Broadcaster Maher will handle radio play-by-play duties at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in February.