A few days after head coach Dan Bylsma threw his backing behind Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, general manager Ray Shero repeated those sentiments.
Shero, at his annual end-of-season media conference, said he believes Fleury can return to his Stanley Cup-winning championship form next year and provide a strong goaltending tandem with Tomas Vokoun.
“I’m not getting rid of Marc-Andre Fleury, provided Marc wants to be a part of it here and come back,” Shero said. “The playoffs is certainly an area that he needs improvement on and concentration and belief to get back to where he was in 2008-09. I believe he can do that. There are certain steps he’s got to do to get there. I guess we’ll see.
“This is the best goaltending we’ve had in a long time. I was very happy with our goaltending this year.”
Questions surrounded Fleury after he was replaced in Game 5 of the team’s opening-round series against the New York Islanders. Vokoun led the Penguins into the Eastern Conference Final and started the final 11 games of the season.
However, the Penguins brass still believes Fleury will be the franchise goaltender.
“The faith I have in Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t waned. Nor has it from (Bylsma),” Shero said. “There’s a misconception that we lost faith because we didn’t put him in the playoffs. It’s about the team. Marc was fine with that because he knew Tomas was playing really well. He supported that.”
Fleury, 28, has been the Penguins’ No. 1 goaltender since the 2005-06 season. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (259) and shutouts (23). Fleury led the team to the Stanley Cup title in 2008-09, and made key saves in Games 6 and 7 against the Detroit Red Wings to clinch the title. No one will ever forget the famous final-second save on Nicklas Lidstrom as the Game 7 clock expired.
Fleury has also been one of the most productive regular-season goaltenders during his career. He’s posted five seasons with 35 or more wins, including twice topping 40 wins. Fleury’s 23 wins this season were only one shy of tying for the NHL lead, despite playing 10 less games than the three players ahead of him.
“It’s difficult to replace 40 wins a year for Marc-Andre Fleury,” Shero said. “I can’t replace that. I don’t believe I can go out and get someone like that.”
Shero also sees Vokoun filling in same role next season as being the team’s backup, but ready to step in at any moment to help the team.
“The reason we traded for Tomas was exactly for this, to help Marc-Andre Fleury, to help our hockey team,” Shero said. “Tomas is the perfect guy for what we have here. Whenever he is called upon, wins games, just doing his job.”
Vokoun, 36, certainly did his part in the postseason. After stepping in for Fleury, the Czech netminder was the team’s best player, posting a 2.01 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
“What Tomas Vokoun did coming into the playoffs in Game 5, I was fully supportive of 100 percent,” Shero said. “It was a change we needed to make for the good of the team. We make the change, Tomas comes in and saves us.”
Shero feels as good as ever about his goaltending situation heading into next season.
“We have two really good goaltenders. That’s a positive for us,” Shero said. “I look forward to having both back next year and helping us win games.”