All the way back in early November of 2014, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford signed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year contract extension worth $23 million dollars.
When it was signed, heads were turned as Fleury was fresh off of a string of disappointing and inconsistent playoff runs. It was so bad that, during last offseason, he went and worked with a sports psychologist to reduce his mental mistakes when the games meant the most.
What was the result?
Fleury would have been considered for the Vezina Trophy had four of the Penguins defensemen not went down with injuries.
Around the middle of the season Fleury’s numbers were as follows.
Save percentage – .923
Goals against average – 2.21
Wins – 29
Shutouts – 9
The Penguins finished the season with a strong penalty kill that was successful 84.8% of the time; that mark placed them third in the league. Their playoff penalty kill was just about the same operating at 85.0%, which put them fourth in the league.
In fact, since 2008-2009, the Penguins have not finished outside of the top ten in regular season penalty killing (excluding the lockout shortened season).
When you think about the Pens, you think about their talented forwards and their lethal powerplay, not their penalty killing ability.
Pittsburgh’s Dominant Penalty Kill
If you ask some people, Pittsburgh’s penalty kill has been so strong because of the play of defensive minded forwards like Jordan Staal, Brandon Sutter and Craig Adams.
However, that’s not really the entire truth.
Yes, Fleury has benefited by having some good penalty killing forwards in front of him, but he has been their best penalty killer. Over the last two seasons, Fleury has had a .9082 save percentage when shorthanded and an adjusted save percentage of .9156 (a statistic calculated by war-on-ice.com).
An adjusted save percentage takes into account the quality of shots the that teams give up, in other words Fleury has put the Penguins on his back when shorthanded.
Take a look at Fleury’s skill when down a man in a clip of a nine save performance against the Philadelphia Flyers powerplay.
During this past season, Fleury’s shorthanded save percentage was .9123 which was second in the league (goalies who played in over 40 games). But what makes his performance even more admirable, is that Fleury was on the ice for 334:07, the fourth most in the league.
The three goaltenders ahead of him were Jonathan Quick .8684 save percentage, on ice for 337:20, Cory Schneider .9000 save percentage, on ice for 341:00, Braden Holtby .8987 save percentage, on ice for 349:48.
Fleury is, and always has been, the backbone of the Penguins penalty kill.
There’s a reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins voted Fleury as their team MVP. When everything was falling apart down the stretch, Fleury stood tall.
Without his play, Pittsburgh would have missed the postseason.
He set a franchise record with nine shutouts, had a record of 33-19-9, a 2.32 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
His playoff performance was equally impressive and the Pens would have been swept by the New York Rangers without him. Fleury worked his way to a .927 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average, but his heroics were not enough to top the Rangers.
Is Fleury Overrated?
If you would have asked me this question last season, I probably would have agreed with you. Fleury simply was not playing like an elite goaltender and made a lot of mental mistakes.
However, after Fleury’s career season, I’d argue that he’s the most underrated goaltender in the entire league.
If you watched the Pens season, you know the kind of effort he gave night in and night out.
The problem remains that many spectators still have the idea in their head that Fleury is not an elite goaltender and his reputation is much better than his performance. This is why many people perceive “the flower” as one of the most overrated goaltenders in the NHL.
But after this season, the exact opposite is true. Fleury played the entire season at an MVP level, he carried the Penguins into the playoffs and simply was their best player.
The biggest reason why he’s so underrated now is look at his contract. His salary cap hit for next season is $5.75 million, that places him as the 14th best paid goaltender.
Here’s a list of goaltenders that make more then Fleury: Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Cam Ward, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop, Semyon Varlamov, Kari Lehtonen and Jonathan Quick.
Some goalies who are paid around the same as Fleury, Mike Smith and Jimmy Howard.
There’s no question that the Penguins have Fleury on a bargain of a contract and that he is back to being one of the best goalies in the NHL, even if some fans do not believe it.
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