Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby still believes in goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He just hopes Fleury still believes in himself, because it may be the only way the Penguins live up to their championship expectations.
"I think he does [believe in himself]," Crosby told NHL.com. "He has no reason not to, but when you go through the scrutiny and dealing with adversity, to say you don't have any doubts, anybody would be lying. You obviously have doubts, but I think those doubts are going to push him to be better and to prove himself."
Crosby knows how much Fleury's performance means to the Penguins' success this season and in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, should they make it there. He's coming off back-to-back playoff flameouts -- including last season, when he lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Fleury, though, was established as the team's No. 1 goalie for the 2013-14 season by coach Dan Bylsma on June 9, the day the Penguins cleaned out their lockers at Consol Energy Center after getting swept out of the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins.
Sidney Crosby discussing what it has been like to see Marc-Andre Fleury struggle the way he has in the playoffs:
"It's tough. The biggest thing is not seeing him be as successful as he wants to be. That's the ultimate thing. As a teammate you want to see your teammates do well and to know he didn't feel good about his game, that's tough. On top of that is seeing the scrutiny. There is a lot of pressure on him and to see the scrutiny that comes along with it, it's not easy. You want to be successful, but there are times when you have to handle adversity and go through and be strong. He's been through different things in his career and I'm sure he's looking to have a bounce-back year."
Teemu Selanne on 2013-14, his self-proclaimed final season, being a farewell tour:
"I wouldn't call it like that, but I think it's good for people to know it will be the last one. I haven't said that officially before, and it will be easier for me to take advantage of every day and enjoy. I think it's good for everybody, my family too. They've asked questions over the years, and now it's a very clear situation."
That decision was immediately and fairly met with skepticism by fans and the media. The questions lingered all summer and bubbled back to the surface when Fleury, the third-string goalie for Canada in the 2010 Olympics, was not surprisingly left off the roster for the country's Olympic orientation camp last month.
But Crosby is not a skeptic. He said he knows Fleury too well to think he can't find his game and his groove again.
"I know the goalie that he is, and I know it doesn't take much," Crosby said. "When you look at last year, it's one or two games in that series against the [New York] Islanders, and obviously the coaches have decisions to make. As a goalie you can't afford that. That's the realistic way of looking at it. As a [forward or defenseman] you can have a bad shift, but as a goalie, if you let in a bad goal everyone is looking at it."
Fleury has let in plenty of goals in the playoffs over the past two years, including several deemed bad either by himself or his critics. In total, Fleury has appeared in 11 playoff games during the past two postseasons and has given up 43 goals for a 4.11 goals-against average and .857 save percentage.
However, Crosby looks at Fleury's regular-season record and his previous Stanley Cup-winning form and says it provides enough proof to show Fleury still can play and deserves his share of credit for Pittsburgh's success. He's 65-25-4 with a .914 save percentage, a 2.36 GAA and four shutouts in 100 games since the start of the 2011-12 season.
"A couple of games do not define a season," Crosby said. "He had a really good regular season, and the start of the playoffs he was good. A couple of games, the momentum changes, that's how it works. But if you look at the whole season [in 2012-13], he was good and he bailed us out of a lot of games.
"It's not like he has to redefine his game and prove to everyone he can play. He had a couple of bad games and unfortunately there is scrutiny that comes along with it, but I think he's more than capable of coming back even stronger even through all that."
Projecting Boston's top two lines
Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla are expected to take the place of Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr as right wings in the Boston Bruins' top six. So who takes Horton's spot on a line with David Krejci, and Milan Lucic and who moves into Jagr's former role with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand?
The decisions will start to be made when training camp begins next week.
"I don't know where those guys will fit best," Bruins coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. "I have to wait and see where the best fit will be. It's something I'm actually really looking forward to seeing, to be honest with you."
Lucic told NHL.com that he, Julien and Bergeron talked briefly about Iginla, Eriksson and the options available during last week's Olympic orientation camp in Calgary. He thinks it actually should be pretty easy to figure out based on history.
Eriksson, like Jagr, is left-handed. Iginla, like Horton, is right-handed. By deductive reasoning, Lucic thinks Eriksson would fit with Bergeron and Marchand while Iginla would fit with Krejci and himself.
"You would think that would be it, but that's obviously a decision for Claude," Lucic said. "He said he doesn't really know yet and he's going to try both out in training camp and see what works better."
Bergeron predictably didn't have a preference when he was asked.
"From what I've seen, Loui is more of a guy who plays two-way and he's relentless on the puck and has a knack for finding the area to score goals," he told NHL.com. "Jarome is a great shooter, his pedigree speaks for itself, and he's gritty but also first on the puck and going north-south, which is the kind of game I like. I'd be more than happy with either of these two guys. It's a great problem to have when you have two great right wingers."
Selanne to play less?
Selanne played in the Ducks' first 43 games last season, but was a healthy scratch in two of the last five games as coach Bruce Boudreau tried to get him some rest before the playoffs began. He played in all 82 games in the 2011-12 season, but the Ducks did not qualify for the postseason.
"Last year it was almost impossible to get the recovery I needed," Selanne said, referencing the condensed 48-game schedule. "I expect this [season] is going to be hard as well, but not as hard as last year. It's going to be better for me. There are going to be nights when I'm going to say or he [Boudreau] is going to say, 'It would be best for us.' We've got to be smart."
This and that
* The Twitterverse was loud with critics Monday after the Chicago Blackhawks announced goalie Corey Crawford signed a six-year contract extension reportedly worth $36 million. The outcry was from people who don't believe Crawford's resume warrants a six-year extension, that the money was too much and that the Blackhawks could have waited to see how he performed this season before giving him such a lucrative deal.
Crawford, whose new contract kicks in starting with the 2014-15 season, simply is cashing in on winning the Stanley Cup, while the Blackhawks are getting the 28-year-old goalie at a cap hit of $6 million through 2019-20, which is a fair-market number for the No. 1 goalie on a winning team right now and potentially could be a bargain in a few years if the cap goes up.
Crawford's $6 million cap hit is fifth among goalies currently signed for 2014-15, according to Capgeek.com; Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Cam Ward are ahead of him. He's one of four goalies (Rask, Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick) signed through at least the 2019-20 season.
Rick DiPietro, bought out of the remainder of his 15-year contract by the New York Islanders this summer, is case study No. 1. Luongo could be on the list too. And sure, general manager Stan Bowman was under no pressure to get this deal done now; he could have waited to see if Crawford puts together another successful season before giving him the lucrative deal.
These are fair arguments that deserve to be heard, but two of Crawford's three seasons as a starting goalie in the NHL have been strong and he earned the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates last season. They believe in him and he came through for them, providing them with reliable goaltending in the most pressure-filled environment. Goalies who do that get paid.
The Blackhawks are banking on it to continue. It's what they should be doing.
They could have given the "C" to Tavares two years ago, when it seemed inevitable he would eventually be wearing it after signing a six-year contract extension on the eve of training camp. The Islanders instead shouldered defenseman Mark Streit with the responsibility, which was the right decision.
Tavares has since grown as a leader and developed into an MVP-type player. He'll be 23 later this month and he'll be taking on the captaincy with four NHL seasons behind him, five seasons left on his contract and the absolute certainty that this is his team now.
* Over the Boards is back as a weekly Wednesday feature on NHL.com.