Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury opened the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a feel-good shutout victory against the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the teams' Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. But now, as the Penguins prepare for Game 4 of the series Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), Fleury is back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
His past two outings -- eight goals allowed and an .897 save percentage -- have inspired flashbacks to Fleury's lackluster performance in the 2012 playoffs, where he posted a 4.63 goals-against average and .834 save percentage in a six-game loss the Philadelphia Flyers.
Time will tell if Fleury's leaky past two outings are a fluke or if he is finding the bright lights of the postseason troublesome once again.
Either way, there are some adjustments the gifted Fleury, 28, can make so his game blooms once again. Here are four tweaks Fleury should consider incorporating into his game, according to NHL.com goalie expert Ken Baker and a panel of goalie consultants:
1. TRACK THE PUCK BETTER
It’s a fundamental fact of stopping the puck: If you're visually tracking the puck -- not just looking at it -- you are more likely to stop it and more likely to control rebounds, thus more likely to win.
At times, Fleury has been making what should be routine saves look difficult -- commonly described as "fighting the puck."
"It is obvious he is not seeing the puck like he does when he is in top form,” said Chris Economou, goalie coach of the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League and a Pennsylvania-based pro goalie consultant. "I would tell him, 'Hey, just focus on following the puck off the stick and into your body and the rest will fall into place.' He's not totally dialed into the puck and that's a big reason he has let in shots that are stoppable. He is just out of sync. It's easily fixed."
2. TAKE A "TIN CUP" APPROACH
Storr, now a pro goalie coach, said he would take the mental pressure off Fleury by preaching some of the philosophy from the classic golf movie "Tin Cup." Chief among the lessons to be preached would be the Rene Russo tenet from that movie that "perfection is unobtainable."
Said Storr: "For goalies like him, who are so gifted athletically, the hardest thing is you just don't want them to get inside their head. You want them to take what I call the 'Tin Cup approach.' Don't worry so much about the technique of his game, but change his mindset. He just needs to settle his mind down and realize that, yeah, he's letting in more goals than he'd like, but they are winning. As long as he is making the key saves at the key times, he is ultimately doing his job. He can't worry about the rest so much."
3. PLAY DEEPER
Zen-like philosophy is all well and good, but on the technical front, Fleury has shown a tendency lately to come out unnecessarily far when cutting down the angle. This "above the blue paint" positioning bit him in the butt twice in Game 2 when he got beat on goals bouncing off the back boards.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie coach Steve McKichan notes that while Fleury's superior mobility and flexibility allow him to play an aggressive game, he would do best to calm down and play closer to the net.
"When a guy is suffering from some confidence issues, they can tend to over-challenge, hoping the puck will hit them," McKichan told NHL.com. "I see this in Fleury. He has superior reflexes. He doesn't need to stray too far out. I would have him, at furthest, standing heels on the top of the crease."
That would allow him to be in better position for rebounds and passing plays, McKichan said, adding, "He is chasing the puck rather than having the play come to him. He needs to just settle his game down."
4. REMEMBER HISTORY CAN REPEAT ITSELF
McKichan, who runs Future Pro Goalie School in Ontario, is a big believer in using video not only to analyze mistakes, but also to point out successes. As such, McKichan would urge Pens goalie coach Gilles Meloche to show Fleury a best-of reel of saves.
"I would have a Hall-of-Fame highlight package put together and show him," McKichan said. "A nice pump-up video would be a good starting point to get him to focus on the fun. Sometimes, to be at their best, goalies need to turn off the [worry] meter and have fun. He looks like he could inject a little fun back into his game and increase that right level of cocky."
Perhaps the highlight reel should lead with what may be one of Fleury's most famous saves: His clutch chest stop in the final seconds against the Detroit Red Wings to win the Cup in 2009.
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