The Pittsburgh Penguins might have a winning record, but they’re not playing solid hockey. Through 17 games, the Penguins are 10-7-0 and are 7-3 in their last ten games. However, they have lost two straight and have looked horrendous doing so.
Their power play has been anemic, their penalty kill has been held afloat by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and they have been dominated at even strength. How on earth do the Penguins have a winning record when all three phases of their game have been remarkably ineffective?
Marc-Andre Fleury is the Penguins MVP
The only reason why Pittsburgh has won 10 games is because of the heroic play of Fleury. He’s off to the best start of his career and he’s showed no signs of slowing down, despite having virtually no defense being played in front of him. In 14 games played, Fleury has a .931 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average. Both marks place Fleury seventh highest in the league and are significantly above his career averages of .912 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average.
But forget the statistics because those rise and fall as the season progresses simply based upon how the team plays in front of a goaltender. Watch out if the Penguins ever start playing solid defense because the 2015-16 season might be the season where Fleury finally silences doubters. All NHL players have a reputation for something, it might not be the best reputation, but they all have one.
For Marc-Andre Fleury, he has developed a reputation for being shaky and mentally inconsistent. But look at his statistics and his general play since the Penguins hired Mike Bales as their goaltending coach. It’s a night and day difference and it’s very hard to quantify the impact Bales has had on Fleury. Midway through last season Fleury had above a .940 save percentage and an extremely low goals against average. Then Pittsburgh’s defense was plagued with injuries and Fleury’s numbers dipped accordingly.
But now let’s take a look at Fleury’s 2015-16 season. Of goaltenders who have played more than eight games, Fleury has the fourth highest save percentage at even strength with a .9435, he’s been perfect while his team is on the power play and he’s fourth in the league on the penalty kill with a .8955 save percentage.
If numbers aren’t enough for you just take a look at the saves Marc-Andre Fleury has been making every single night.
Fleury has been phenomenal and without his play, the Penguins do not have a winning record.
But there’s a problem here, Fleury can’t be expected the bail the Penguins out all of the time. If Pittsburgh wants to compete for the Stanley Cup, they need to start playing like it. Fleury signed a new five-year contract and committed to playing hockey for the Penguins, but he deserves more than the team is giving him. He re-signed last season and took a deal that was below what he could have received on the open market and how has he been rewarded?
The longer the season goes, the more it seems that Pittsburgh might have to trade for a top-four defender or two. They don’t have a lot of viable assets to trade, but they usually find a way to make some moves happen.
Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t ask for the pummeling he receives every night, and the Penguins aren’t playing to their potential. They need to start playing better because Fleury can’t be perfect every night.
When defender Olli Maatta was asked where the Penguins would be without Fleury, this was his response:
I don’t want to think about it.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime@MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers