NHL

History suggests Fleury will rebound from playoff, early-season struggles

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By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributing writer

Let’s take a trip down memory lane shall we?

The scene is a little over a year ago: Friday, June 12, 2009, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with six seconds remaining in the third period.

Following a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski’s shot from the point was blocked, but the always-dangerous Henrik Zetterberg picked up the loose puck and desperately fired it at Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who responded with a right pad save.

However, he kicked the rebound to a wide open Nicklas Lidstrom at the point. With time winding down, Fleury, who was out of position, lunged across the crease to turn Lidstrom’s shot aside with one second left.

“The rebound was wide and I saw Lidstrom coming in and I just wanted to get my body out there,” Fleury said after the game. “It hit me in the ribs so it turned out good.”

Boy did it ever. That save, the defining stop of his career, allowed the Penguins to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992.

Since then, things haven’t been as smooth for Fleury.

Despite winning 37 games and putting up a 2.65 goals-against average last year, Fleury struggled through the playoffs, going 7-6 with a 2.78 goals-against average and a less-than stellar .891 save percentage.

Fans have been relentless on Fleury. Some criticisms warranted, some of them outlandish.

But he’s faced – and overcome – heavy criticism in the past. Prior to his Stanley Cup clinching save, Fleury was known as the goaltender who couldn’t win the big game.

Fleury’s late clearing attempt, while playing for Team Canada in the 2004 World Junior Championships, bounced off his own defenseman and into the net for the game-winning goal.

During Fleury’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, he tripped and fell flat on his face as he came out of the runway at the Joe Louis Arena. The Penguins went on to drop both games in Detroit, en route to a 4-2 series loss to the Red Wings.

Six days before the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup, Fleury was yanked from Game 5 after allowing five goals on 21 shots during a humiliating 5-0 defeat at the Joe Louis Arena.

But he had the mental toughness to quickly bounce back three nights later in Game 6, stopping 25 shots and forcing a deciding Game 7 after a 2-1 victory. Though he made crucial saves on Zetterberg and helped the Penguins kill two power plays in the final 10 minutes, Fleury’s biggest stop came with 90 seconds left and the game in the balance when he denied Daniel Cleary on a breakaway.

Fleury saved his best performance, however, for Game 7 at the Joe Louis Arena – a place that haunted the Penguins’ goaltender throughout his career. The arena’s active, problematic end boards helped contribute to a 3.64 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage heading into Game 7.

But for one night, Fleury exorcised his demons and silenced his critics.

Those critics have returned, however, following last year’s playoff disaster against Montreal and a disappointing start to the season.

Fleury, who started the season 0-3 with a 3.41 goals-against average and a .853 save percentage, took the first step toward putting a poor start behind him as he helped the Penguins win their fourth straight overall and end a six-game losing streak Thursday night in Nashville.

It might only be one win, but it’s an important one – and a key first step – toward, once again, having to silence his critics.

He allowed a goal on his first shot, 53 seconds into the game, but rebounded to make 21 saves for his first win of the season.

Bouncing back has been a key theme for the Penguins’ franchise goaltender throughout his career.

Fleury has overcome his detractors in the past.

He will, most definitely, bounce back again.

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About Brian Metzer

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Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brian Metzer has been covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and National Hockey League since 2004. He is the host of Penguins Live Weekly, a show that airs Saturday mornings on 105.9 the X and iHeart Radio. He serves as the Pittsburgh Penguins correspondent for NHL Network Radio on SiriusXM, and is the NHL and Penguins correspondent for the Beaver County Times. Metzer is also a contributing writer for NHL.com and is the primary contributor for this site www.fromthepoint.com.

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5 Comments

  1. Armandhammer

    October 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I hope you’re right.

    You say he rebounded to make 21 saves last night, yet his save% was STILL under .900….I’m sorry, that’s not where I want my starting goaltender to be.

    I’m just tired of the excuses people will make for him.

    First it was that he was young and that he was learning.

    Then it was that he had no goalie coach.

    Then it was that he had no D and a terrible team in front of him.

    Then he had a good year.

    Now people are blaming the team’s play for his struggles this year, saying that the team plays better D for Johnson.

    When is it going to be his fault? When are people going to stop making excuses and realize that he’s been downright bad for the last year and a bit? I’m sorry, when you’re below .900 in save%, and at the bottom of the league for goaltender stats for the past season and a bit, I’d say a lot of it lies on him.

    Brent Johnson has put up 4 wins with an AHL blueline in front of him. If Fleury lost those games, people would be blaming the inexperience on the blueline.

    He’s being paid 5 million dollars, third highest on the team. We expect Crosby and Malkin to put up big numbers year after year, even without having talented top line wingers….and guess what? THEY DO!

    Therefore, I expect Fleury to at least be solid and bring a strong game even if the blueline is thin or underperforming at times. He’s supposed to be one of our elite players, it’s time to start performing like one, no excuses.

    I found this on another board:

    Fleury is 4-7 in his last 11 NHL starts. In his last 17 NHL starts, he has let in 3 or more goals on 12 occasions and 4 or more on 6 or 7. Sorry, but that just does not cut it for a so-called NHL caliber goalie.

  2. Walshy

    October 22, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    The team does play differently in front of him. he faces more break aways and more odd man rushes than Johnson. The team plays much loser with MAF in net that with Johnson, they are more responsible defensively, that is the advantage of having a goalie with the skill set of MAF in net.

    The negative of that is when he is off his game, the quality of shots he faces are that high they are more than likely going to go in.

    This guy is my favorite Pen, I have no problems admitting that when I plead his case, but I think the Pens fans have him on the shortest leash I have ever seen.

    You do realise that 9 playoff series out of 11 for a goalie is elite numbers right? Ignore statistical categories, because when it comes to getting the Stanley cup 16 wins is all that matters, and MAF has got 16 wins in one play off run more often than: Luongo, Miller, two goalies who are considered the elite of the elite.

    Luongo I would not touch because he cannot for the life of him make the save when his team needs it. He puts up glittering numbers, but when his team needs him to make a save on a 2 on 1 or a when his team is down 2-1 and needs to keep the flood gates from breaking early in the 1st, it doesnt happen.

    MAF has done it in the past more often than not, we were the best team at coming from behind either last year or the year before. You cant do that if your goalie is letting more pucks past him. (yes he would have let those damn softies in that put the team in the bad situation in the first place).

    But he sure as hell made sure the game didnt blow out to a 2 goal game.

    I dont think MAF will have career stats with save% much over .900 or a GAA average much under 2.50 heck it may even be over 2.50. But history will show that he will have kept the penguins in just as many games as Sid or Geno have won on their stick.

    Its not how many you save, but when you save em. This is why we are having these discussions now, the Habs goal…. He missed it, a really bad typical soft MAF goal, and everyone gets on his back….

    I hope he proves everyone else wrong.

  3. Kylie

    October 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I have found the attention that Fluery has been receiving very entertaining and i can no longer contain the temptation to stir the pot!

    It never fails to amuse me when fans and commentators rabbit on about percentages and minor games when there is only one win that matters and that is the one that makes you the Stanley Cup champions.

    This is the same in any team sport. You can be the best team of the season but unless you win the very last game you are not the best and there is no consolation in your glorious statistics. (remember this Armandhammer)

    Last season i did not think fluery lost the playoffs for the team. In fact the Penguins got further along then I expected. I thought Gonchar and Guerin were both slow, Staal should never have come back, there were other injuries, the team looked tired, etc, etc. Blaming one player for the loss is ludicrous.

    I also am amazed how everyone has forgotten that Fluery broke his finger in January. Now for a goalie i figure hands are pretty damned important…how short the memories of fans are.

    What does is excite me is that Ray and the coaching staff have the vision and sense to recruit and support the players that have the ability to bring Stanley back to Pittsburgh.

  4. OneSmugPug

    October 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    *Facepalm* Why does it always have to be 1 players fault? For instance, Crosby took a penalty in which Nashville scored, he rights himself by scoring 2. How does Fleury get the opportunity to redeem himself?

    I mean even in Nashville last night, those D pairings gave up a TON of breakaways and MAF answered the call every time and still today, he’s a scape goat. Meh….this topic is dead to me.

  5. mag66

    October 25, 2010 at 10:18 am

    fleury = far left pedal. (clutch)

    i dont care what you say walshy’s assessment was right on. He is a gamer and plays best when he needs to. If i had to guess i would say that he has a little ADD, and you can see him flip a switch and get completely focused when its really important. He has problems ‘payin attention’ or concentrating for an extended period of time however, he knows when he really needs to raise his level of play and he usually does especially when it matters most. hes a gamer.