New father Fleury prepared for better playoff results
PITTSBURGH -- The morning after Marc-Andre Fleury's first child, daughter Estelle, was born on Friday, the weary Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender sheepishly acknowledged he perhaps wasn't as prepared as he'd prefer to be when it comes to the fine arts of diaper-changing, bottle-feeding and swaddling.
"Not so smooth yet," Fleury said with his characteristic smile. "I still have some work to do … I don't know so much yet.
"I'm just going to go with the flow."
Kind of like his approach to putting his postseason showing from a year ago behind him as he embarks on the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There isn't another goalie in the Eastern Conference field who has led his team to a Stanley Cup. Then again, there also aren't any active goalies who allowed 26 goals in a six-game playoff series.
But like most of his teammates, Fleury is taking a what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger approach to reflecting on an ugly first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012.
Fleury has much better memories of his inspired play up through a Game 7 Stanley Cup Final victory in 2009.
"That," Fleury said, "was a lot more fun than last year, that's for sure. But you just learn from it. You learn from what happened in the past and try to use it to improve and be ready for these playoffs coming up."
Fleury completed another regular season with his 23rd victory in 31 starts Saturday night, and he did so with numbers that mirror his previous two campaigns. Fleury has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons, his goals-against average staying between 2.32 and 2.39, his save percentage in the .913 to .918 range -- and, of course, many more wins than losses.
But it's been the postseason showings in recent years that have veered from that consistency. Fleury had a 1.97 goals-against average during the 2008 playoffs in leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final in addition to backstopping Pittsburgh to the Cup at age 24 a year later.
The previous three postseasons, though, haven't been as kind to the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft: 3.12 goals-against average, .879 save percentage, 12-14 record. Those numbers took a nosedive after the ugly stat line he posted in six playoff games last season: 4.63 goals-against average, .834 save percentage.
Yes, Fleury allowed his share of soft goals to the Flyers during an abomination of a series for the Penguins last April. But he wasn't helped much by a spotty defense in front of him that gave Philadelphia an abundance of scoring chances and power-play opportunities.
The tenor throughout the Pittsburgh locker room and among its coaching staff is one of unwavering support for Fleury and a sense they let him down during that abbreviated postseason -- one in which the Penguins entered tabbed as a Stanley Cup favorite.
"I think every person, to a man, in that dressing room that was there last year knows they need to be better and wasn't happy with the performances that we had as a team and as a group of individuals," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And Marc is not alone in that. So I don't see it as a carryover for just one person or something to talk about for just Marc-Andre -- we weren't good, we weren't good in areas we needed to be as a group.
"We know we need to get better, and I think we have continually addressed those areas of the game throughout this season as individuals and as a team. Marc's had a lot of success this year and won a lot of hockey games."
Fleury had separate winning streaks of five, seven and four games this season. He went through a five-game stretch in March in which he allowed three goals, including a March 16 shutout of the New York Rangers that allowed him to surpass two-time Stanley Cup winner Tom Barrasso as the Penguins leader in career shutouts with 23.
"The way he's played, he should have tons of confidence," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. I don't think any of us can explain last year. So there's no point on even dwelling on it or thinking about it, and I think we've done a lot of things better this year to prepare ourselves. We've all been pretty tested -- and that's Marc as well.
"He's had a great year and he should be more than confident going into the playoffs. I know we certainly are confident in him."
A lot has changed for Marc-Andre Fleury since his nightmare postseason in 2012, and the new father has been consistent this season as he braces for another run at the Cup. (Photo: Mike Stobe/NHLI)
Fleury was blessed to be drafted by an organization in 2003 that, within the ensuing two years, would add world-class talents Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. That's allowed him to rack up the wins -- he's averaged 38 since 2006-07 in the five seasons that weren't significantly shortened by lockout or injury -- but it also perhaps curtailed the respect he receives across the continent.
Some franchises are built around their goaltender -- Fleury, though, plays second- or third-fiddle to Crosby and Malkin. Many teams focus almost exclusively on defense, thereby improving their goalies' statistics -- but the Penguins have scored more goals than any team over the past seven seasons, maybe sometimes at the indirect expense of their goals-against average.
Make no mistake, though. Fleury's teammates respect what they have in their goalie.
"Why would we think about last year when it comes to him?" Letang said. "He's been playing well this season and building his confidence through the year. It's got nothing to do with last year. He's played well for us so many times in the past, so I think he's going to the playoffs with confidence in the way he's playing."