Marc-Andre Fleury is Pittsburgh’s X-factor
Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps the most enigmatic goalie in the league.
That sounds crazy to say something like that about a player who’s not from a particular location in Europe, but if you can figure out how a guy who can play so well can look so bad in certain situations, the Pittsburgh Penguins may want to talk to you.
The Penguins didn’t figure goaltending would be an issue for them last season. After all, they had Fleury to start and Tomas Vokoun to back him up when he needed a break. It turned out he needed a break the most during the postseason as the New York Islanders found ways to continually beat him. Even GM Ray Shero wasn’t sure what would’ve happened had they not turned to Vokoun.
After the Pens were ousted by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, coach Dan Bylsma made it clear to say Fleury is their No. 1 goalie for this season. For both Fleury’s sake and the team’s sake, they have to hope he can find consistency and at the very least, he’s doing what he can off the ice to do it.
He’s started seeing a sports psychologist. He’ll have a new goalie coach in Mike Bales to work with. As far as how it plays out on the ice, the Pens are hoping it translates into raises in his save percentage.
While his goals-against average has been OK, Fleury isn’t breaking any records with the percentage of shots he’s stopping as he hasn’t cracked .920 since the 2007-08 season. That points towards consistency and that’s exactly what the Penguins have desperately needed in goal in the playoffs.
If Fleury can get his head and his play turned in the right direction, the Penguins will be incredibly tough to handle. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz provide plenty of offense as it is, but keeping opponents off the board is their bugaboo.
If Fleury can’t get right and Vokoun has to pick up the pieces in the regular season, can they go into another offseason wondering if he can get his act together? The Penguins having compliance buyouts to use might provide him with any motivation he needs to improve as soon as possible.