“It doesn’t matter until April.”
“Wait until the playoffs.”
“He’ll fold in the postseason.”
No matter how well Marc-Andre Fleury played at any point in the regular season, his successes were always met with some form of the quotes above. After all, Fleury was entering the 2013-14 regular season after several years of playoff disappointments, including losing his starting job in the opening round last spring.
Aside from the year that the Penguins lost in the Stanley Cup Final, Fleury’s postseason numbers have never been anything special.
But with the shock of losing the starting job to Tomas Vokoun, it was time for things to change.
Regular Season “Bounce Back”
After Pittsburgh was swept by the Boston Bruins in June, both Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma began the offseason by emphasizing their faith in Fleury as the franchise goaltender. Arrangements were made and Fleury met with a sports psychologist over the summer to work through his struggles.
When the regular season began, all eyes were on Fleury to prove that he was a different man in net. The regular season opener was just the first of a long line of “prove it” tests for Fleury.
He handled the regular season opener just fine, recording a 27-save shutout against the New Jersey Devils. He continued on to win his first seven games, allowing just 13 goals in that stretch.
Fast-forward through a regular season in which the Penguins dominated the Metropolitan division and it appears that Fleury’s first set of tests was a success.
Was it a “bounce back” though?
|Reg Season||GP||GAA||Save %|
For all of the flak that Fleury has received for being inconsistent, his past four regular seasons have actually been impressively consistent (not to be confused with just impressive). Every one of Fleury’s sub-.900 save percentage performances in the playoffs has been followed up by a regular season performance that includes a GAA range of 2.32 – 2.39 and a save percentage range of .913 – .918.
Perhaps all of those quotes at the beginning had some merit; maybe it didn’t matter until the playoffs for Fleury.
Game 1 Assessments
Fleury faced his next test, or perhaps his first “meaningful” test, against Columbus in Game 1 on Wednesday. Depending on who you ask, he either passed with flying colors or should have been pulled after the first goal he allowed in a 4-3 win for Pittsburgh.
The headlines from recaps are just as confusing.
Social media couldn’t handle assessing Fleury either:
Lol fleury picking up where he left off last spring They should just yank him and go with vokoun the rest of the way
— milsy (@milliea12) April 17, 2014
Fleury is broken…could mean Miami University product Jeff Zatkoff could make an appearance soon. #CBJ
— Rob Kunz (@Rob10TVSports) April 17, 2014
Marc-Andre Fleury was quietly one of the best players in the building tonight.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 17, 2014
My personal assessment: Fleury was good and the defense was not.
Regardless, Fleury survived game one of the playoffs, which has generally not been a huge issue:
|Game 1||GA||Save %||Result|
|11-12||4||0.846||L 4-3 (OT)|
Now, he faces another test in Game 2, which has been an issue for the team in recent years:
|Game 2||GA||Save %||Result|
|08-09||2||0.950||W 3-2 (OT)|
After that, we’ll analyze Game 3, and then Game 4, and every game Fleury plays forever….
When Will the Tests End?
Will the hockey world ever have complete faith in Fleury?
To use a famous quote from the great Daniel Alfredsson, “Probably not.”
Despite winning a Stanley Cup long ago, Fleury now has a set reputation as a playoff question mark. The analysis never goes to the defense, special teams, or how Pittsburgh is playing overall. It lives and dies with Fleury. To the hockey world, every playoff game will be a test for Fleury.
Luckily, his locker room isn’t quite as dramatic.
Crosby on Fleury: I think the way he’s played speaks for itself. I think me having to defend him at this point is pretty funny. #Pens -MC
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 15, 2014
Crosby on Fleury: A goalie doesn’t have the luxury of having a couple bad games. I had 4 not-so-great ones vs. Boston and I’m still playing.
— Shelly Anderson (@pgshelly) April 15, 2014
Someone asks if Fleury needs to win a Stanley Cup to stop the questions. Bylsma: “Only for you [the media].” #Pens
— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) April 18, 2014
Fleury has also moved on from thinking too much about the past and the constant microscope he is under.
“As long as it is enough for my teammates and I give them a chance to win every night, I am happy with that. I don’t care about the rest.” – Fleury, from the Toronto Sun
Fleury on last year: “Never mind last year, just happy to get Game 1… It’s in the past. New season. One game at a time. One shot at a time.”
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 18, 2014
This is a big postseason for Fleury’s career.
But maybe it isn’t a test. Maybe it’s just hockey.