The Pittsburgh Penguins appear to have it all as they head into the 2013 shortened season.
They have the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby healthy and ready to go, along with the 2012 Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in midseason form after tearing up the KHL during the NHL lockout. They have a rabid and passionate fan base that is ready to see the Penguins raise the Stanley Cup once again. They are the favorites in Vegas to win the Cup again in 2013.
But despite all of that, the Penguins will go only as far as one man takes them, and that man is Marc-Andre Fleury.
That’s the norm in the NHL: you win with goaltending in the playoffs and the Penguins haven’t had success as of late.
Fleury has lost three consecutive postseason series, as the Penguins lost in seven games in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, in seven games in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 and in six in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
He can’t be blamed for all of that as the team in general didn’t play very well, but Fleury did allow 17 goals against the Flyers before being benched for Brent Johnson in the third period of Game 3, and overall allowed a total of 26 goals in the six games.
As the Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe noted on the latest edition of Three Rivers, One Show, the organization was not happy with Fleury’s performance, which prompted them to go out and get Tomas Vokoun as insurance.
But the great thing about sports is that there is always next season and for Fleury that next season is upon him right now.
Having Vokoun around will help Fleury’s game as he seems to perform well when pushed by a quality backup. That may not be 100 percent fact, but usually when someone has to go out and perform to keep their job, then you tend to get their best effort.
That is exactly what I expect from Fleury this season.
He will roughly play 70 percent of the Penguins games if all goes well, but having Vokoun around should enable Fleury to enter the postseason fresh, which is something that hasn’t happened lately.
You can knock Fleury all you want for failing to lead the Penguins on deep playoff runs the past three years, but just remember that in the regular season last year that he won 42 games, which was only one win shy of Tom Barrasso’s single-season franchise record. His next win – hopefully Saturday against the Flyers – will be his 227th, which will break Barrasso’s career franchise record.
It’s as easy to criticize the goaltender as it is an NFL quarterback. Everyone always wants the other guy to play. But while doing that, just remember how good Fleury really is.
There is pressure on him to perform from both the organization and the fans, as Dan Bylsma won’t have any problems turning to Vokoun, who the Pens aren’t paying $2 million to sit around and do nothing.
But when the pressure is on, the great ones rise to the occasion. That is exactly what I expect from Fleury during this shortened season.
Hopefully I’m right because the Pens will likely go only as far as he can lead them.