If there was any question as to whom will be the Penguins’ No. 1 goaltender next season, head coach Dan Bylsma laid it to rest Sunday afternoon.
“(Marc-Andre Fleury) is the No. 1 goalie for this franchise and will be going forward,” he said following the team’s locker clean out.
“He’s going to take the net and be the No. 1 goalie and be great,” Bylsma continued. “There’s no question about that. He’s going to win a lot of hockey games for this team next season. He’ll have that opportunity in the playoffs again when this team gets there.”
During Pittsburgh’s current postseason run, which ended in Game 4 Friday in Boston, the Penguins had turned to Tomas Vokoun to lead them. Vokoun replaced Fleury in Game 5 of the their opening round series against the New York Islanders and never relinquished the position, starting the team’s last 11 games.
“We were in a situation where Tomas Vokoun went in the net and won the third and fourth game of a series for us and continued to play in our net,” Bylsma said.
“It was disappointing to not play, but it’s understandable,” Fleury said. “’Voky’ was playing great and gave our team a chance to win every night.”
But coach Bylsma sees Fleury and Vokoun resuming their roles from last season in the 2013-14 campaign.
“Tomas isn’t in a different boat than when he came in here last season for our team,” Bylsma said. “He’s a guy who makes our goaltending tandem a very good one. He’s going to play games for us, big games for us. He came in and did for us exactly what he came here to do, what we signed him for.
“Next year, he’s not going to get that opportunity because Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be in net winning hockey games.”
Fleury enjoyed a stellar regular season in 2012-13, going 23-8 with a 2.66 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. But in his first four playoff games, he went 2-2 with a 3.40 GAA and .891 save percentage.
Interestingly, Fleury opened the postseason with a 26-save shutout in Game 1. But he followed that by allowing four goals in a 4-3 loss in Game 2.
“I didn’t change anything from Game 1, which was a shutout, to Game 2, which was four goals against. I don’t think it was a technique thing,” Fleury said. “I think it was a bad bounce, hit a skate or something, and it went in. It was a four-goal game instead of a two-goal game. It made everything worse. Sometimes you start thinking more.”
Fleury allowed four goals in Game 3, a 5-4 overtime win for Pittsburgh. In Game 4 Fleury surrendered six goals, including a backbreaker to Casey Cizikas with 1:16 left in the game.
At that point, the Penguins turned to Vokoun.
“I tried to encourage them throughout the playoffs, even though I wasn’t playing,” Fleury said. “They’re still my teammates, my team. I want them to do well.”
Fleury is hoping to erase this postseason from his memory and move on with a fresh start next year.
“That’s the plan. That’s all I can do,” Fleury said. “Put it behind me, work hard this summer for the start of the season and try to win as many games as possible when I come back.”
Fleury wasn’t asking to be named the team’s No. 1 goalie. He was only looking for an opportunity for a new beginning.
“I don’t need to have a number,” Fleury said. “I just want to come back, work, win some games and do my best to help the team win. Hopefully, I can play a lot of games.”
But that didn’t stop Bylsma from giving him a number.
“Marc-Andre Fleury is a guy that will come back to our team and he’s going to be the No. 1 goalie,” Bylsma said. “He’s going to be this franchise’s goalie.”