The Pittsburgh Penguins will have an intriguing goaltending situation next season, with incumbent starter Marc-Andre Fleury and reliable Tomas Vokoun as the nominal backup, at least to start the 2013-14 campaign.
With possible uncertainty lying ahead, it’s not surprising the Penguins went with familiarity when selecting a new goaltending coach to replace the departed Gilles Meloche.
As announced Monday on the team website, the Penguins have promoted former goaltending development coach Mike Bales to a full-time spot at the NHL level. The team press release indicated general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma made the hire in a joint effort.
Bales will go from a position primarily focused on teaching and scouting to a job that will require more fine-tuning and maintenance than overhaul. He will be working with two very different goalies, barring long-term injury: the athletic, in-his-prime Fleury and the positional, 36-year-old Vokoun.
Bales, 42, has been coaching goalies since he hung up his pads in 2010. He played 18 professional seasons, including 23 games at the NHL level. Under his guidance, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ goalie duo of Brad Thiessen and Jeff Zatkoff combined to post the AHL’s lowest team goals-against average in 2012-13.
A Saskatchewan native, Bales will be tasked with helping Fleury’s regular-season performance translate to the pressure of the playoffs, while also ensuring Vokoun remains sharp enough to be a viable option if needed.
In Fleury’s case especially, perhaps a different approach will be good for his continued development. Meloche, a former Penguins goalie himself, was the only position coach Fleury had known in the NHL.