Marc-Andre Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh has had it’s fair share of up’s and down’s. From winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 to being benched in 2013, the goaltender has been through it all. But if the Pittsburgh Penguins want to make another run at the cup in 2014, they need Fleury to be at his best because the fact of the matter is, the Pens will only go as far as Fleury can take them.
Fleury played incredible in the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 playoff campaigns, both ending with Eastern Conference Championships and one Stanley Cup. After the ’07-’08 season, that saw Fleury set Penguins playoff records in wins and save percentage, the Pens gave him a 7 year, $35 million deal. What did they get in return? A Stanley Cup.
Fleury’s Stanley Cup Run
Fleury won 35 games in the ’08-’09 season and led the Pens to a 4th seed in the playoffs. Paired with Art-Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, the two spear-headed the way for the Pens into 12 impressive wins to get themselves a rematch in the Stanley Cup Final vs. Red Wings. After fighting back from 2 games down, the Pens found themselves in game 7 in Detroit with a one goal lead. With 7 seconds left, Marc-Andre Fleury makes arguably the most important save in Pens history.
Fleury finished the playoffs having started all 24 games and saving 91% of shots saved. The Penguins best defender and penalty killer was Fleury and his performance was largely responsible for the Stanley Cup that resided in Pittsburgh for the next year.
Despite setting career highs in nearly all regular season goaltender stat columns since 2009, Fleury has one just one playoff series as a starting goaltender and that came in the year after they brought home the cup. Since 2010, Fleury has gone 7-10 in the playoffs, given up more than 3.5 goals/game and has stopped only 88% of shots faced. What has happened to Fleury?
Has he gotten to comfortable? Has he lost that competitive edge that earned him a new contract in 2008? There really is no answer. A season ago, Fleury started the playoffs out with a shutout, then gave up 5 goals in game two. After struggling in games 3&4, head Coach Dan Bylsma pulled him and Fleury would see the ice just one more time in relief work of Tomas Vokoun. This season, however, Fleury doesn’t have Vokoun to worry about.
The Fury of Fleury
As the franchise goalie in Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury has something to prove. He’s shown in the past that he can propel his team to wins, but he first must believe in himself to do so. As the goalie of the Penguins, he has to play well every-night; no breaks. With such a star-studded (healthy) line-up, the Pens, at times, take a few minutes off and in those moments, Marc-Andre Fleury must be ready to spark his team.
Fleury has had a great season starting 58 and winning 35. He’s second in the NHL in wins and posts a 2.35 goals/against average, which is his second best season average in his career. He also has posted 5 shutouts which he hasn’t done since his first full season as a Penguins in 2006.
"[Fleury] was outstanding all game long in tough spots…I don't know if you named him first star, but he probably was." -Bylsma on Fleury
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 29, 2014
Is he more comfortable knowing the capable veteran Vokoun isn’t behind him? Or has he finally gotten his swag bag? Realistically, we can only speculate because until he performs in the playoffs, we have only his recent track record of spring play to go off.
Fleury Controls Pens Destiny
The Penguins ownership is hoping to have their full line-up at their disposal by mid April. Beau Bennett’s return last night was a step in the right direction, Kris Letang has been practicing and should be ready for game time soon and Evgeni Malkin is nursing a foot injury that team doctors seem to be taking extra precaution with at this stage, giving that he did play an entire game on his injured foot. The Pens have clinched a playoff berth and therefore, no one should rush back until 100% healthy because the Penguins will need everyone at their best to take down the East this spring.
But regardless of health and who’s ready, Fleury has to hold his own. A season ago, Vokoun was the only player who was consistent for the Pens and kept them in games they should’ve lost. He was phenomenal and despite getting ousted in the Eastern Conf. finals, Vokoun kept most games winnable.
Everything needs to fall in place for the Pens to win another cup, but it all starts with Marc-Andre Fleury. If he get’s his 2009 groove back, the Pens will inevitably be a much better and more confident team.