Iâ€™m Not Worried About Fleuryâ€¦For Now
Picture it: The Penguins are on the ice for the first scrimmage of the 2013-14 training camp. Tanner Glass winds up, shoots, and blasts the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury.
For Glass, it was just a meaningless goal. In no way does it foreshadow a 15, 10, or even 5 goal season for the winger who struggled to score just one last season.
For Fleury, it also was just a meaningless goal. But for anyone in attendance at this Thursday practice, it was fuel for a growing fire that Fleury canâ€™t handle the starting job any longer.
Iâ€™m not going to lie to you this morning. Just a few short months ago, my emotions controlled my thoughts, and I wanted the wilted â€œFlowerâ€ shipped out of town at the earliest convenience. After all, he had been replaced in the playoffs by his backup, Tomas Vokoun, who outplayed him in almost every facet of the game.
There is absolutely no reason to retain a $5 million goalie who routinely chokes under the pressure of the playoffs. Any goalie could win 40 games behind this star-studded Penguin roster, right?
Right. And thatâ€™s precisely why Iâ€™m not worried about Fleuryâ€¦for now.
You see, Fleury will do his thing in the regular season. Heâ€™ll win 40-plus games. Heâ€™ll post an adequate goals-against average and an okay save percentage. He might even earn a shutout or two.
But he wonâ€™t carry this team. And thatâ€™s okay. He doesnâ€™t have to.
Thatâ€™s the beauty of having a team loaded with high-end talent in players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The playoffs, barring injuries, are as close to a sure-shot as you can get in professional sports.
Once the playoffs roll around, though, itâ€™s another story for this goalie and team that have gained a reputation of falling apart when the stakes increase.
And thatâ€™s when my Fleury worries will commence.
Letâ€™s face it, if general manager Ray Shero refused to unload Fleury, either by trade or compliance buyout, this past summer, heâ€™s not going to trade him during the season.
In other words, the Fleury/Vokoun combination is what the Penguins will ride into the playoffs with hopes that history wonâ€™t repeat itselfâ€¦again.
The Penguins will need to get quality goaltending from one or both of these veterans in order to accomplish something this group of players has done just once: win the Stanley Cup.
The good news is that Fleury has been in these shoes before.
In 2008, he began the Stanley Cup Final series in ominous fashion, stumbling out of the gate â€“ literally â€“ before Game One against the Detroit Red Wings started, and he never seemed to regain his composure, letting in weak goal after weak goal.
But, just one year later, against the same opponent, Fleury dug deep and found a way to help his team win the series in seven games, even making a highlight reel, â€œgame-winningâ€ save on Nicklas Lidstrom with just seconds left on the clock.
He wasnâ€™t amazing in net during the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup run. His GAA was an inflated (for the playoffs, that is) 2.61, his save percentage was just .908, and he failed to record a single shutout in his 16 wins.
Still, he did enough to help his team win. And, more importantly, he didnâ€™t lose games for his team.
Iâ€™m not here to promote the Fleury bandwagon. In fact, Iâ€™m not even on it. But I am here to demonstrate that Fleury has the physical skills and a proven ability to â€œmanageâ€ games.
The 20013-14 season and playoffs could be defining for the controversial goalieâ€™s career. He knows this. The Penguinsâ€™ upper management knows this. The fans know this.
Now itâ€™s time to see what he does about it.