If he’s not the most loyal Pittsburgh Penguin to don a uniform, Marc-Andre Fleury certainly makes it onto the team’s Mount Rushmore in that regard. Loyalty stirs the sentiments, but “what about play?” one might ask.
All sentiments aside, Fleury has been the team’s most dependable performer throughout these playoffs. Injuries, flat play, and an underperforming defensive corp have put the onus on Fleury to muster a level of consistency, like his .924 save percentage, and acrobatic saves that allowed them to advance against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.
The Penguins’ struggles on the blue line—their inability to get clean breakouts, their penchant for allowing teams to hem them in their own zone, and their spasmodic allowance of odd-man rushes—are yesterday’s news. But the narrative remains familiar because yesterday’s news gets a fresh set of ink when the same inconsistencies manifest through three rounds of the playoffs.
Make no mistake, Fleury was neither consistent or spectacular during last night’s 5-1 clunker in Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators. He gave up four goals and got the hook in the first period. But the same could be said of the team as a whole. The Penguins were flat-footed and feign of conviction.
Look at the last time Fleury gave up a 4+ goals. In Game 6 against Washington, he gave up five the Capitals. In Game 7 in Washington, no less, he shut them out.
The rattled goaltender of 2012 against the Philadelphia Flyers and the benched goaltender of the 2013 playoffs is the Fleury that a portion of the Pittsburgh fan base relishes to bring up when he suffers a loss. It’s the noose that a few too many yinzers have suspended over his head.
The Fleury of 2012-2013 is gone. His play has matured since the Penguins hired goaltender coach Mike Bales in 2014. However, Pittsburgh has not gotten an extended sample size of Fleury in the playoffs since that time until 2017. So far, he’s brought two heads to the table, that of Columbus and Washington, with a leaky blue line.
Through the first three games against Ottawa, he’s allowed two goals in Game 1, none in Game 2, and four in Game 3. Would Penguins fans call for Matt Murray to be yanked if he were in the same position? I sure wouldn’t.
Changing goaltenders will not change the effect of Kris Letting’s absence, the injuries to Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, and Justin Shultz, nor the flatlining of the team in key contests.
Fleury has plugged the leaks against a hair-trigger team like Columbus and a loaded offensive club in Washington. Barring last night’s abomination from the team as a whole, goaltender included, Fleury’s play has maintained its Conn Smythe-contending level.
He’s been loyal and he’s been good throughout these 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the small-yet-rabid minority will continue to eviscerate Fleury for each playoff loss. As former Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso used to say, “It’s not the saves you make, but the goals you let in.”
Marc-Andre Fleury may have let in more than a few last night in Ottawa, but if the Penguins want to make up the deficit in this series and reach the Stanley Cup final, they would do well to follow the goaltender who’s brought them here from the first round.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.