By Mark Madden
I generally deal in tangibles. For example, I know the Penguins defense is much better. I know the Penguins’ youthful core (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, etc.) isn’t nearly done improving. I know Comrie and Asham will slot in favorably. Certain truisms apply.
But Marc-Andre Fleury makes me dip into the intangible.
For the Penguins to get back to the Stanley Cup final, Fleury needs to play better. He needs to elevate his goalkeeping.
Here’s where it gets intangible: Fleury’s goals-against average last season was 2.65, 2.67 the campaign before. His save percentage last year was .905, .912 the year before. Hardly precipitous changes. Fleury’s numbers were 2.33 and .921 in 2007-08, but injuries curtailed his appearances to just 35 games that regular season.
The numbers say Fleury played about as well in 2009-10 as in 2008-09, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup season. But my eyes said otherwise.
Fleury undoubtedly had a rotten playoff last spring, his save percentage dipping below .900. He blew up at the start of Game 7 vs. Montreal.
Fleury has never been measured by numbers. No goalie should be. It’s about big saves at big times. Fleury seemed lacking in that department last season. He also seemed a bit tired. Perhaps a lesson should be learned from the “rest” Fleury inadvertently got in ’07-08. Maybe a lighter regular-season workload = a better playoff.
When the history of this generation’s Penguins is someday written, coming up short in the spring of 2010 may be explained by too many of the team’s members living the life, not living the game, between the ’09 postseason and the ’10 postseason. Oh, well. Live and learn. These are kids. Champions, yes. But still kids.
I’m not saying Fleury was caught up in that. But I would bet that Fleury has renewed his dedication. Fleury enjoys winning. But more than that, he hates to lose. That’s a goalie’s best possible quality.
Physically and technically, Fleury was sound last season. He just needs to keep crap from flowing downhill. Fleury let bad goals become bad games. Game 7 against Montreal was a prime example. Fleury needs to hone his focus and shorten his memory.
He will. I’ve been in Fleury’s corner since before the Penguins drafted him. He’s a franchise goalie, a big winner. Last year will prove to be a mere hiccup, for Fleury and for the Penguins.
I’m amused by postings in the COMMENTS section about the Penguins potentially shopping among free agents still available. For better or worse, they’re full up at forward. At defense, they have seven that are NHL-ready, plus a fistful of prospects in Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, etc. Despres is a STUD, and might be closer than the Penguins currently think.
So no, the Penguins are not going to sign Andreas Lilja. Nor should they. Who wants Red Wings rejects? Give us fresh meat, not old bones. That’s the way this franchise operates.
UPDATE: A poster made a good point about Fleury’s Olympics experience. It could not have gone worse. Not only did he get no games, he got very little practice time. It made him rusty. Instead of adrenalizing him emotionally, Fleury came back to Pittsburgh with the blahs. In retrospect, Fleury probably should have declined participation, or left once the situation became apparent. It’s not why he soiled the bed in Game 7 against the Canadiens. But it definitely hurt more than helped.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh. Check out the Mark Madden page at WXDX.com. Contact Mark via email@example.com.