Marc-Andre Fleury is, by all accounts, the most perplexing goaltender in the NHL.
During games, Fleury can make some of most unbelievable saves, but then quickly turn into a goat by allowing a completely unfathomable tally in the most uncharacteristic way.
His career has been a never-ending roller coaster; a cyclic pattern of highs and lows, only, when the cons are prevalent, they outweigh the pros twofold.
Fleury’s been outcasted – rather unfairly at times, and justified on other occasions – but he really made strides last season, and other than his Game 4 lapse against Columbus, proved to be reliable for the most part in the postseason again.
Could it have been because Tomas Vokoun wasn’t present to apply pressure? Or was it due to a change in the Pens’ goaltending coach (Mike Bales)? Either way, Fleury found a way to forget about his past blunders, and maintain his focus on making the necessary adjustments to backstop Pittsburgh. As he did when they won the Cup in 2009.
And because Fleury’s entering a season where it’ll be his last on his seven-year contract, I’m fully expecting him to, quite possibly, put forth one of the best campaigns he’s ever produced.
Its become a trend nowadays that players who hold an impending free agency status perform miles ahead of their previous seasons, and a perfect example of that was Matt Niskanen. In the two-plus seasons Niskanen had been rostered with Pittsburgh after being acquired in 2011, he compiled 39 points in 133 regular-season games. This past season – his contract year – Niskanen registered 46 points in 81 tilts.
That’s hardly a coincidence. And yes, Niskanen got first unit power play opportunities, but that doesn’t guarantee production. You can also use Chris Kunitz as an example. The guy potted 52 points in 2012-13, which isn’t the most he’s collected, but he did it in just 48 games, arguably branding that campaign his best ever. The following summer, Kunitz got a new deal.
Now, of course, I’m dissecting a defenseman and a forward’s contract season, but this applies to all players. Given Fleury’s better play, contract season, and new coach/atmosphere, because of those reasons, Fleury’s got a great chance to be the No. 1 overall pick Pittsburgh visioned him being. Or, at least, returning to Cup form.
It’s utterly difficult to trust in somebody like Fleury, whose been at the center of Pittsburgh’s playoff meltdowns over recent attempts. However, while fans are still stubborn enough to call for his job after this past postseason ouster, Fleury was not the issue whatsoever; his reputation just leads people to deem him the scapegoat.
Players will always be judged for how they play in the playoffs, and rightfully so, but pressure for Fleury is through the roof being in Pittsburgh. Yet, if you look at his ’14 postseason numbers, he had his best goals-against-average and save percentage since the Pens reached the Cup final in 2008. I say again, Fleury was not why Pittsburgh lost.
This season will change all doubt though.
Fleury knows he’s getting up there in age (29), and, I keep stating this, but because it’s his contract season, he understands what’s at stake here. He’s ready to earn that new deal.
With a new coaching staff, desire to get that long-term contract, and better play in 2013-14, Fleury will be reborn this season.
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins