Two days after the Penguins’ 2013 playoff run ended, head coach Dan Bylsma voiced his support of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury
“(Marc-Andre Fleury) is the No. 1 goalie for this franchise and will be going forward,” Bylsma said.
Fleury, 28, has been the Penguins’ rock in goal for the past eight seasons. During that time he’s led the team to a Stanley Cup title, two Stanley Cup Final appearances and is the all-time franchise leader in wins (249) and shutouts (23).
But during the 2013 postseason, Fleury found himself in an unfamiliar position. After starting an unbelievable 79 straight playoff games for the Penguins, Fleury was replaced by goaltender Tomas Vokoun following Game 4 of the opening round series against the New York Islanders. Vokoun started the remainder of the playoffs.
Fleury had an entire summer to clear his mind and come back fresh for the start of a new season. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t learn from his past performance.
“I was trying to figure out what happened on every goal, trying to find ways to stop it (from happening again),” Fleury said. “Some (goals) were unfortunate bounces. Some were good goals. I look at it, think about it and try to be better.
“It was rocky in the playoffs. I’m not going to stop playing hockey because of that. You learn from it. I’m looking forward to getting going again.”
In the eyes of his teammates, Fleury is still “their guy.” That point was made clear by captain Sidney Crosby on the opening day of training camp Wednesday.
“I don’t think anybody’s worried in here,” Crosby said. “I think he’s had a lot of scrutiny. I think as a teammate, we believe in him and we know he believes in himself. We can’t control what’s said or how things are analyzed, but we believe in him and we don’t have any problems there.”
Bylsma echoed his captain’s sentiment. When asked if what happened in the playoffs would affect the goalie rotation, coach Bylsma replied: “Absolutely not.”
He added: “Marc-Andre, like last year, is going to get the majority of the load. This season in particular with the condensed schedule and the number of back-to-back games is going to be a big dictator for how the games are dispersed and looked at. … Marc-Andre Fleury is going to play the majority of those, but still Tomas is going to be counted on to go in and play big games against good teams in this schedule for us.”
Bylsma referred to Fleury and Vokoun as the “best tandem in the league.” Both goalies have the respect and confidence of their teammates and coaches.
“It’s important for the players and the coaching staff to trust us,” Vokoun said. “We have to always back that up on the ice, play well and help the team win. It’s nice to start with the confidence of our coaching staff.”
Fleury has always been spectacular for the Penguins in the regular season. He’s recorded two 40-win seasons (42, 2011-12; 40, 2006-07) and has topped the 30-win mark five times.
But Fleury knows in the world of sports you aren’t judged on how you perform in the regular season. You’re judged by how you play in the postseason.
“That’s how it is all the time,” he said. “You talk about the season, but it’s about what you do in the playoffs. That’s when it really matters.”
Fleury also has a strong playoff pedigree. He was a key figure in leading the Penguins to their Cup title – winning critical games with big saves, particularly in Games 6 and 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in the Final.
Although Fleury’s numbers and results over the past two postseasons haven’t been up to his usual standards, that doesn’t mean he can’t regain his form. And that is exactly his goal for the upcoming season.
“Personally there are things I want to change and improve on,” Fleury said. “Going through those (tough) times makes you realize what you want to work on. I think it will be helpful.
“I’ll come in, try my best and work hard. I hope so. I love to play. I love the game. I hope I can be in there and give the guys a chance to win some games.”