Marc-Andre Fleury: Fool’s Gold


Long-time Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the iconic rock band The Greatful Dead have a lot in common – people love the idea of them, but upon further inspection, they’re just not very good.

When the Penguins drafted Marc-Andre Fleury as the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the organization had to believe it was getting the next Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek, especially when you consider that it passed on players such as Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry just to name a few. What they got instead was a very ordinary goaltender who becomes less than ordinary when his team needs him most.

Now, I know many Penguins fans get hot under the collar when anyone tries to cast aspersions toward their beloved Marc-Andre, but to defend his play, a person would have to completely disregard the facts. His supporters will cite the fact that he is regularly among the league leaders in wins each year, and I would cede that point to them. But, let’s examine that statistic more closely.

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  • Since the 2009 Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins have regularly ranked among the NHL’s top teams in goals scored per game, twice leading the league in that category. Having that level of offensive fire power can mask substandard goaltending, and Fleury certainly benefited from it.

    When we take a look at save percentage, Fleury’s production has been marginal at best when compared to other tenders around the league. Last season, he ranked 2nd in wins, but just 22nd in save percentage.  In 2011-2012, when he led the league in wins, he ranked just 26th in save percentage!  This disparity between wins and save percentage has been a constant throughout his career.

    No one can dispute that Fleury is blessed with superior athleticism, and that many of his saves were some of the most acrobatic the league has ever seen. Unfortunately, Fleury can be likened to a baseball outfielder who is forced to make a spectacular, diving catch because he misjudged the ball off the bat, causing him to get a late jump. We celebrate the catch, losing sight of the fact that the play should have been routine.

    Fleury has some glaring holes in his game that he has not addressed since the time he first entered the league in 2003. As a profly goaltender, Fleury adopts the technique of dropping to his knees to make most saves.  That’s fine, but he will rarely recover to his skates fully upright to reposition for a rebound or a second shot, and since his movements are often undisciplined and overactive, he regularly takes himself out of position anyway.

    “It’s not like he’s a rookie, though. At this point he should have grown up.”

    – Mike Milbury

    A lot of times, Fleury will never pop back up to his skates and will play an entire possession on his knees, depriving himself of any leverage to react and conceding the top third of the goal to any opponent able to lift the puck.

    Another long-standing weakness in Fleury’s game is his puck play behind the net. In most cases, he makes a nuisance of himself, compromising the play of his teammates in some way. When Fleury stops a puck behind the end line he reminds me of the dog who caught the fire truck – now that he has it, he doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

    At times, Fleury’s bumbling attempts at playing the puck have had catastrophic results. Case in point, game four of last season’s playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets where he misplayed the puck behind the goal with just 30 seconds left in regulation, allowing Ryan Johansen to set up Brandon Dubinsky for an empty net slam dunk.

    You would have thought that such a blunder would have motivated Fleury to clean up that aspect of his game in the off season – guess not. In this year’s season opener against Anaheim, he did it again, getting caught out of the crease, allowing the Ducks to notch an empty net goal.

    Obviously, the biggest indictment against Fleury has been his string of disappointing playoff performances since helping the Penguins win the cup in 2009. His post-season save percentage over the last five seasons is just .890 — hardly elite.

    Fleury hasn’t just played poorly in the playoffs, at times, he has embarrassed himself. Penguins’ fans have the images of some really ugly goaltending performances indelibly stamped into their collective memory.

    In 2010, the Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadians in a game six where Fleury gave up four goals on the first 13 shots he faced before being pulled for backup Brent Johnson.

    In 2011, after taking a 3-1 series lead, the Penguins were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. The Lightning were let back in the series by a generous Fleury who in game five, gave up four goals on the first 14 shots he faced before being pulled for backup Brent Johnson.  In game six, Fleury posted a .809 save percentage, giving up four goals on just 21 shots faced.

    In 2012, the Penguins entered the playoffs with perhaps their strongest team since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, only to be eliminated in six games by arch rival, Philadelphia. In this series, Fleury’s collapse was epic, giving up 26 goals in just six starts! Once again, he had to be pulled in a game after he gave up six goals on 28 shots.

    In 2013, the Penguins got by the New York Islanders in round one, but Fleury didn’t — getting benched for good after giving up six goals on just 24 shots faced. In that game, Fleury presented a pathetic sight as his only reaction to a shot by Casey Cizikas was to slowly roll backwards like a human beach ball into the net.

    NBCSN commentator, Mike Milbury, made some cutting remarks about Fleury in his exchange with colleague Bob McKenzie during the first intermission of the Penguins/Flyers game last week. McKenzie began, “Some people believe that Marc-Andre Fleury is a goaltender that does his best work when he’s not challenged – when he’s not in a competitive situation with somebody nipping at his heels or in a situation where he’s in danger of losing his number one job.”

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    Now, I don’t necessarily believe it was Bob McKenzie’s intention to disparage Fleury with what he said. He was just passing on information.  Regardless, it didn’t put Fleury in a good light. If there is a scrap of truth to this perception, it makes the Penguins’ netminder look immature and weak. Mike Milbury said as much, “It’s not like he’s a rookie, though. At this point he should have grown up.”

    Granted, Mike Milbury has no love for the Penguins, and is liberal with his criticism of the team, but he’s a straight shooter who always tells it like it is.

    Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford’s public declaration of support for Fleury and his intention of resigning him was bewildering. So, the organization that has up till now, prided itself on the use of advanced statistics to help guide its decision-making throws that philosophy out the window when it comes to the goaltender? What’s that all about?

    Fleury must be one charming fellow.Throughout his career, he has had players, coaches, commentators, and front office people defending him, making excuses for him, and feeding his ego. Judging by Jim Rutherford’s comments this month, it seems that the coddling of Fleury will continue under the new regime.

    At some point, if the Penguins are serious about earning another chance at a Stanley Cup, someone is going to have to stand up and admit that the emperor has no clothes.