Prior to this season, Marc-Andre Fleury only had one goalie coach – Gilles Meloche – after being drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2003.
With Meloche stepping aside to spend more time with family at the end of last season, Mike Bales has stepped in to work with the organization’s NHL goalies full-time after spending two seasons as the Penguins goaltender development coach.
The change has helped Fleury start the season a perfect 5-0, his longest winning streak to open a season – behind only the eight-game streak he posted from Oct. 2-20, 2009.
“We do a couple things differently,” Fleury said. “But, I didn’t change the whole way I play. It was just little adjustments here and there. It’s been good.”
Before his promotion, Bales, 42, worked primarily with the club’s American Hockey League netminders along with a number of goalie prospects the Penguins have stockpiled in recent drafts and in free agency. Last season, current NHL backup Jeff Zatkoff and Brad Thiessen allowed the fewest goals in the AHL under Bales’ tutelage.
Since taking over in Pittsburgh in August, Bales said he has worked with Fleury to implement little changes into his game – taking it one step at a time to ensure constant improvement.
“I had some ideas, technically, and I talked to Marc about it,” Bales said. “I suggest things, we go out and work on it and if he feels comfortable with it then he implements it into his game. “
Fleury began the season at a record pace, not allowing a goal in the first 115:06 minutes of play, a franchise record to start a season. Fleury has allowed just nine goals through his first five games, which is a new career low for him (12 goals; 2012-13).
Fleury said Bales’ teaching style has allowed for the ten-year veteran to use all the knowledge he learned under Meloche’s tutelage and just tweak his play and approach based on Bales’ evaluation.
“There is always something new that I have to keep working on,” Fleury said. “I like it.”
Those four home wins to start the season have Fleury and the Penguins (5-1-0, 10 points) riding high atop the Metropolitan Division standings two weeks into the young season. Fleury said every game is a test, but he is especially looking forward to competing in the next handful of matchups and hopefully continuing his early success.
“Every team seems like they have a shot at winning every night,” he said. “I think we have got off to a good start. Going to face Philadelphia (on) Thursday, which should be a good game. And then we have Colorado coming up, they’ve been pretty hot. I think it’ll be a couple fun games to play in.”