Fleury, Blooming into MVP Performer

Marc-Andre Fleury (Tim Turk/THW)
Marc-Andre Fleury (Tim Turk/THW)

How people in the city of Pittsburgh constantly bash Marc-Andre Fleury on popular Pittsburgh sports talk shows, like Mark Madden’s popular show on 105.9 WXDX, is beyond my comprehension. To some critics, most of whom know very little about hockey, Fleury will never be good enough. Fleury hasn’t been the most consistent between the pipes in the past, but is there any NHL goaltender that has been perfect?

People thought the greatest statistical net-minder in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, was washed up at the beginning of this year. Look at Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils now, they can’t lose. Brodeur has bounced back as has Fleury from a very rocky start to the 2010-11 season. Despite the forgettable start, this season has shaped out to be the best of Marc-Andre Fleury’s young career.

Just in case anyone has forgotten, Fleury started the year 1-6 in his first seven starts. Pens fans were calling for backup Brent Johnson to take over the starting role for Fleury. Johnson filled in quite comfortably during Fleury’s struggles by posting a 6-1-1 record. Johnson had Vezina Trophy-like numbers to start this season’s campaign. He was fourth in goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.943). Critics continued to bash Fleury, and some demanded Fleury be traded. Do you know how many teams would’ve traded for Fleury if he were on the trade block? Almost every team in the NHL.

Although many people, including Dan Bylsma, may have doubted Fleury during this period of time, Fleury had the support of teammates in the locker room. Sidney Crosby, the Pens captain, and a figure who is always politically correct, spoke out against how Bylsma was working Fleury in and out of the Pens lineup. Bylsma hinted that Fleury had no confidence, and at the time, this was more than likely true. Throughout Fleury’s struggles, Crosby still had his goaltender’s back, and indirectly spoke out against Byslma’s decision to play Fleury sporadically instead of letting Fleury play through his struggles game after game.

“It’s not like he can change overnight. He’s going to put strings of games together, and he can’t do that with one game. With a goalie, you’ve got to give him time. He’s got to play four or five games maybe to prove that, but to sit here and question his psyche doesn’t really give him a chance.”

After being yanked from a game on Nov. 6th against the Phoenix Coyotes, giving up 2 goals only seven minutes into the game, Fleury had hit rock bottom. He was 1-6 with with a 3.53 goals-against average and .853 save percentage. Something had to give because this season could not have gotten any worse for the Pens 1st overall pick in 2003.

As most top performers in sports tend to do, Fleury silenced his critics by running off a stretch of 12 straight victories. If it weren’t for the Flower being in full bloom, and his 13-0-1 record during that time, the Pens would be fighting for their playoff lives.  Without the consistent scoring of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Fleury has been the backbone for the Penguins success this season.

So much of the Pens defensive improvement this year has been credited to newcomers, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. These two defensive upgrades have undoubtedly boosted the defensive efforts of the Pens on the back end.

On the other hand, Fleury is solely responsible as to why the Penguins rank 6th in team defense, and have the number one penalty killing unit in the league. The best penalty killer on any team has to be its goalie. The Penguins lead the NHL in penalty minutes with 1215 and have the highest penalty minutes per game average with 18.1. The fact that the Pens have the number one penalty killing unit in the league is astounding considering that they are the most penalized team in the NHL.

With the way that the Flower bounced back earlier in the season, and that the Pens are only two points behind the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers, how can’t Fleury seriously be considered as an M.V.P. candidate? He definitely deserves to win the Hart Trophy as MVP as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, or the Lester B. Pearson Award as the League MVP as voted by the players.

Despite the most man games lost in the NHL, with over 250 due to injury, Fleury has the Pens right in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Pens starting goaltender is only one win shy of recording his 4th 30-win season in the past five years. His 29 wins this season make Fleury only two wins shy of leading the NHL in victories. The only season Fleury didn’t record 30 wins, he started 35 games due to an injury in 2007-08. Don’t hold that season against Fleury either because he did take the Pens to their first Stanley Cup Finals in over a decade. The year following, Fleury captured his first Stanley Cup championship.

Some of the Flower’s best performances this season have been in losses. On Feb. 20th, against the Chicago Blackhawks, on NBC national TV, Fleury made 13 saves in the 1st period when the Pens had no business being down only 1-0. The entire 1st period was played in the Pens defensive zone, and Fleury was being peppered with shots.

With minimal scoring, there is more pressure on Fleury to carry the Pens through the end of the year and through the playoffs than there ever has been in years past. Knowing that a goaltender can carry a team through the playoffs, and that defense wins Stanley Cups, it remains to be seen what will happen.

Somehow, Fleury has always seemed to come through in the big games in the past. Remember back to game 5 of the 2007-08 Stanley Cup playoffs when the Flower made 55 saves in a triple OT thriller extending the Cup Finals to a 6th game. Marc-Andre Fleury bounced back even better the following season, putting the icing on the cake with a sprawling save against Nicklas Lindstrom. More amazing than his final save to end the Stanley Cup Finals, Fleury may have won the Cup for the Pens by stopping Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in the opening moments of game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals that same playoff season.

Marc-Andre Fleury should have nothing else to prove. Instead of getting criticized for his poor play in meaningless games at the start of this season, Fleury needs to be given some well-deserved recognition. He is one of the best young goaltenders, at the age of 29, in the world. Most professional athletes don’t hit their prime until they are in their 30’s. The Flower isn’t even in full bloom yet. He still has a great future with unlimited potential ahead of him.

With the number of injuries the Penguins have been dealt in 2010-11 campaign, this season has been nothing like anything anyone has ever seen. Fleury has the Pens high up in the Eastern Conference standings without the contributions of Crosby, Malkin, and a variety of other injured Pens. Fleury wins, and he wins when games count the most. Isn’t that the object of hockey to win games, and to make the big save when it matters the most? The Flower always seems to be up to the task. It’s time that people quit critiquing Fleury’s every minor mistake, and start appreciating the gem in net that the Penguins will have down the road in the future. They can start recognizing Fleury by voting for him as NHL M.V.P.

9 thoughts on “Fleury, Blooming into MVP Performer”

  1. Though I certainly appreciate what Fleury does, he has not played at the level of Thomas or Price. The Bruins may be defensive-minded, but they allow 30-plus shots almost every game and are good for at least a few 2-on-1s a game. Thomas has been unreal and should win the Vezina and garner some Hart consideration.

    Price has carried the Canadiens, who are offensively challenged and have missed solid defenseman all season.

    • James – don’t dismiss Price so fast. Habs have been playing without their 2 top d-men most of the season and still find ways to win.

      disclaimer: I am an unabashed Homer

      • Haha I hear ya. Price is having a crazy year, no question. The last few games between he and Fleury were awesome.

        Goaltender duels are kind of a strange thing that people like to talk about (being separated by 190 feet of ice and 10 skaters, it seems like the battle is more between the forwards and defense than goalies, but I digress).

        However, Price and Fleury have put on awesome games against one anothers’ teams. I’d love to see another Habs-Pens series this year.

        Still, I’d vote Thomas for Vezina if my word mattered. Guy has looked great, and his numbers are plain silly, defensive systems notwithstanding.

  2. This article is way too aggressive. Your statements are ludicrously absolute and one-sided. The idea that Fleury is worthy of Hart Consideration is absurd. He’s certainly in the discussion for the Vezina, but several goalies (Tim Thomas, Carey Price, Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom, Tim Thomas, Tim Thomas) have had better years statistically and are as valuable to their respective teams as Fleury is his.

    • John,

      Thanks for reading my article. First of all, I said this MVP for Fleury isn’t all about the stats. Yeah Thomas is having a great year, but the Bruins are also the most defensive-minded team in the league, and they have been since Claude Julien took over. Tim Thomas is not as valuable to the Bruins as Fleury is to the Pens right now. It’s the type of style the Bruins play that make Thomas’s numbers inflated. Rask would fill in just fine if called upon, just like Rask did last year due to the Bruins style of play. Dan Bylsma doesn’t play a defensive style. Out of all the goalies you listed above, have any of their teams had even close to the number of injuries that the Pen’s have had this season, and lost their two top superstars? The Pen’s depend on Sid, Geno, and Fleury. Their entire franchise success depends upon these 3, and right now Fleury is keeping it together. The Pens have no consistent scoring and they are still 2 points back of 1st in the East.

      • You don’t think the Penguins play a defensive concious game? Not only are the Pens loaded on the blue line (Kris Letang, Zybnek Michalek, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and formerly Alex Goligoski) but they employ a legion of defensively effective two way forwards. Staal, Kennedy, Cooke, Rupp, Dupuis, Crosby…jesus, I could go on and on, are all great defensive forwards. Fleury benefits from playing for one of the most balanced and responsible teams the NHL has seen in a long time, injuries or not. He is no more or less a product of his team than any other goalie.

        Who are you to cast of all of Thomas’ statistics as a product of his system? Where do you get off discrediting his stellar play this year simply because you’re a homer with an agenda? Why don’t you ask Thomas whether his performance is due to the x’s and o’s? Did you consider that it’s because he is a fantastic athelete with a phenomenal work ethic.

        Fleury is an indisputable talent and big game goalie, but you are simply blinded by your own colors and unable to maintain any semblance of journalistic integrity. You are a Penguins fan, you are not a sports writer.

        • The bottom line is when thomas had an off year the bruins didnt miss a beat. Thomas didnt even start for team usa. Thomas is a great goalie and has the best numbers, but no goalie has had to deal with the injuries fleury has had too. By the way ive bashed fleury more than anyone in the past. Fleury also has one thing your boy thomas does not, and that is a ring. Thomas also has the best defenseman in hockey in chara. Orpik is hurt, letang has only been avg at best since the break, martin was also hurt for a time and so was michalek. Fleury was playing in front of the wilkes-barre scranton penguins for 15 games.

        • Marce-Andre’s ring from two years ago is completely irrelevant. You’re reaching.

          Thomas has the greatest save percentage IN THE HISTORY OF HOCKEY.

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