Really?…Really.

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A funny thing happened to Brent Johnson Wednesday night on the way out to the ice for the 3rd period against the Boston Bruins. When he wasn’t looking, someone completely snatched up his teammates and replaced them with hockey zombies…Really?

OK, maybe not, but boy, it sure seemed like a terrifying ending to a horrifying movie the other night after the Penguins dominated and actually looked disciplined and confident for 40 minutes of play, up 4-2…and then the bottom fell out. It was an odd-man-break-fest that proved the point about how it takes 18 guys to support a goalie.

If the Penguins were taking a cue from the Steelers, they grabbed the wrong page to follow, the one where you go into some kind of prevent defense with way too much time left on the clock. Throw that page out, boys.

A friend asked the other day what was up with Sidney Crosby and Dan Bylsma concerning Marc-Andre Fleury. There was a feeling that maybe Sid was just sticking up for the Flower because they are good friends off the ice. 

Sid has a definite point, which was why I was laughing when I read the article. Fleury cannot be expected to regain his game-sharpness in practice. Practice speed is far different from  game speed. He needs game minutes to work through it. He also needs the rest of the team to take responsibility as well. In local sports writer Joe Starky’s Thursday column for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, he quoted Brooks Orpik: “Well, I’m sure everybody has their own opinion in here, and it doesn’t really matter, ’cause there’s one guy who’s going to decide whether or not (Fleury) is playing,” Orpik said. “I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer, to be honest. Maybe you throw him in there and he gets his confidence back by playing that much. The flipside of it: What if you put him put back in there and he continues to struggle and we miss the playoffs by two points? Then you kind of sit here and kick yourself and say, ‘Maybe we should have let him work through it in practice earlier on.’ ”

This statement is a little disturbing to me from one who is a defensive leader on the team, from one who has come back from being sidelined due to injury and who should also know the vast difference between practice speed (and flow) and game speed (and flow). As a defensemen, he should well understand that he and his linemates cannot leave their guys hanging out to dry (like they did to Johnson Wednesday night). As for the “flipside of it,” right now in November (and actually should have been sooner) is the best time to give Fleury the time to work through it when there are still a ton of games to allow the cushion needed for that kind of thinking.

And if Orps is thinking this way, then he is reinforcing the idea that it all rests on Fleury. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how it comes off. It has not gone unnoticed either that the whole body language of the team on the ice changed from when Fleury was in goal to when Johnson replaced him. Whether it is subconscious or somewhat intentional, it was evident that they seemed more confident in front of their back-up. If anything, they should have buckled down more in front of their “ailing” netminder to help him gain his confidence back. Instead, it was like “whatever.”

Wow. Not only have the fans seemed to have forgotten the overall record and contribution of Fleury, including spectacular effort time and again to keep the Pens clawing to a Game 7 the year Detroit won it on Penguin ice. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the year after when, once again, Fleury’s reflexes and acrobatics kept his teammates in game after game to win the Stanley Cup. But he didn’t do it alone…it was a total team effort.

Starkey describes how something the equivalent of pulling out all the stops has been done to help Fleury from changing his “practice and pre-game routines this season, to no avail. Bylsma has called out Fleury, in so many words, after certain games. Didn’t work. Bylsma rewarded Fleury by giving him a surprise start Saturday in Phoenix, then ripped him out of the game after Fleury allowed two goals in 6 minutes, 56 seconds.” And Bylsma stands by it.

When a starter in goal is named for a game, unless some freak accident or illness renders the starter unable to do so at the last minute, you do not change the starter. The position already requires so much mental preparation and even though both goalies should be ready, the starter has to mentally prepare even more intensely. Fleury was already at a disadvantage, so it really was not a reward. If Bylsma wanted to reward him, he would have named him the starter off the bat. I did not agree with pulling Fleury in the first 6 minutes of the last game he started. Like I said, while Fleury’s let in some stinkers, he’s got 18 other guys whose job it is to reduce the number of chances the other team gets on goal while increasing their own chances to score.

Right now the Penguins have a situation where every time Fleury is “allowed” to step on the ice, he’s going to be keyed up more than usual because any mistake on his part could earn him an immediate yank. As a result, he’s not 100% focused on his job, and because of that, he goes in tight and starts second-guessing himself, and then the mistakes compound. Sid was right to argue the decision.

An even bigger question is where’s Gilles Miloche, the goaltending coach, in all of this? He should be in serious discussion with Bylsma about his franchise goalie and getting him out there for 5 straight games. It is very early, too early, in the season to be pulling this kind of stuff. By pulling Fleury, he’s letting the rest of the team off the hook. I don’t like it.

And For Those Who Could Stand a “Little” Refresher…
(compliments of NHL.com)
 

Marc Andre Fleury…

  •  Boasts a career record of 148-106-2-30 in 302 games with a 2.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage
  • Has recorded 35 wins in three of the last four seasons (only time he didn’t was when he played in only 35 games due to a high ankle sprain in 2007-08)
  • Won 9 of his last 11 playoff series, and backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009 after posting a 16-8 record, 2.61 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 24 postseason games
  • Came up with critical saves throughout postseason, including stopping Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway shot early in conference semifinals Game 7 in Washington, a Dan Cleary breakaway shot in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and blanking future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left in Game 7 to preserve the Stanley Cup clinching victory
  • Has won last five series clinching games on the road
  • Is 6-2 in playoff overtimes
  • Notched a 35-18-7 record with a 2.67 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and 4 shutouts in the 2008-09 regular season
  • His 35 wins ranked sixth in the NHL and are the 4th highest single-season total in Penguins’ history
  • Started 29 of team’s final 31 regular-season games, including 19 consecutive (Feb. 3 – March 14), going 19-6-4 to help team earn a postseason berth
  • Notched his 100th career victory on March 1, 2009, at Dallas
  • Set a new career single-game high with 47 saves October 11, 2008, vs. New Jersey
  • In the 2008 playoffs, led all goaltenders in save percentage (.933), tied for first in wins (14) and finished second in GAA (1.97)
  • Posted three playoff shutouts, including clinching game against Philadelphia in Eastern Conference Finals (6-0)
  • Stopped 55 of 58 shots in triple-overtime victory over the Red Wings in Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final at Detroit
  • His 40 wins in 2006-07 are the second-highest single-season total in Penguins’ history, behind only Tom Barrasso’s 43 in 1992-93
  • Holds club goaltending record for most games played in a single season (67 in 2009-10 and 2006-07)
  • In first NHL game Oct. 10, 2003 vs. Los Angeles, he stopped 46 of 48 shots, including a penalty shot, in 3-0 loss.

The pedigree and resume of a premiere franchise goalie stand as a testament and will bear out…my “money’s” on Fleury. ‘nough said.

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