PITTSBURGH – Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, unbeaten the last three weeks, has a sprained ankle that will keep him out of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup for up to two months.
Penguins forward Maxime Talbot has a similar injury and may be out a month. Both Fleury and Talbot were examined Wednesday by a team doctor after the Penguins returned from an eight-day road trip.
Fleury and Talbot have a severe sprain that occurs in the ligaments of the upper ankle and takes longer to heal. The team said the minimum Fleury will be out is six weeks, or until late January.
Losing Fleury and Talbot for an extended stretch is a major setback for the Penguins, who made the playoffs for the first time in six years last season but have hovered around the .500 mark this season. They take a 15-13-2 record into Thursday night’s home game against Ottawa.
The injuries occurred during one of the busiest stretches of the season, with Thursday’s game being the Penguins’ sixth in 11 days. Even if Fleury can return in late January, he would miss 19 games – or nearly one-quarter of the schedule.
Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien does not expect the club to add another goaltender, which means the Penguins will go with former Vancouver backup Dany Sabourin as their starter. Ty Conklin, recalled last week from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, becomes the backup.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Therrien said of Fleury’s injury. “First of all, he was playing the best hockey of the season before he was hurt. He was playing with a lot of confidence and was really sharp.”
Until losing Tuesday, the Penguins were coming off a franchise-first three-game sweep of Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver during a western Canada swing and had won seven of eight.
Sabourin, at least statistically, has played better than Fleury this season, but Sabourin was pulled after allowing five goals in two periods of an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. He is 6-5-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average.
“This is an opportunity for Dany Sabourin to prove he can establish himself in the NHL,” Therrien said. “He’s been pretty solid.”
Fleury is 9-8-1 with two shutouts and a 2.90 goals-against average, but had begun playing much better before getting hurt early in the first period of a 3-2 shootout victory in Calgary last Thursday.
The 23-year-old Fleury – the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft – has won his last four starts, allowing only four goals and making 84 saves. He hasn’t lost since Nov. 21. Fleury’s recent play was a turnaround from a mid-November slump in which he lost four consecutive decisions and gave up 19 goals in four-plus games.
Fleury had a breakthrough season a year ago, going 40-16-9 after previously winning only 17 of his first 71 NHL games. He tied with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff for third place among NHL goalies with 40 wins and trailed only Martin Brodeur (48 wins) of New Jersey and Roberto Luongo (47 wins) of Vancouver.
Talbot has seven goals and four assists in 24 games, with a plus-four rating that ties with Ryan Malone as the highest among the Penguins’ forwards – even though Talbot usually plays on the fourth line.
Talbot had two goals in four games beginning Dec. 3 after being out for five games with the same type of ankle injury.