Much like a good play is often forgotten in a loss, a poor decision was obscured by the Pittsburgh Penguins’ comeback win over Toronto on Wednesday night.
While the Penguins rallied from 4-1 down to win the game in a shootout, coach Dan Bylsma‘s decision to yank goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for backup Jeff Zatkoff in the second period could’ve easily short-circuited Pittsburgh’s hopes for victory.
Fleury wasn’t at his sharpest Wednesday night, allowing a pair of goals in the first period and botching an exchange with Kris Letang behind the net that led to Toronto’s third tally early in the second. Following that miscommunication, Bylsma pulled the trigger on his first goalie switch of the season, sending in rookie Zatkoff.
About a half hour later, Zatkoff allowed a questionable goal at the end of the second period, restoring a two-goal lead for the Leafs just as the Penguins seemed to be taking control. As it turned out, Pittsburgh tied the game anyway with a pair in the third, outshooting Toronto 15-0 in the frame and 2-0 in overtime. Zatkoff was a perfect 2 for 2 in the ensuing shootout, helping make up for his earlier misplay.
Despite the positive result, it was surprising to see Bylsma go to the hook on Fleury, who has been among the Penguins’ best players in the opening quarter of the season. One would think Fleury earned the right to fight his way through a subpar start to a November game, but Bylsma was eager to make a change.
To Bylsma’s credit, he went back to Fleury on Friday afternoon in Tampa. The Penguins (17-9-1, 35 points) have played better games, but with a stout Fleury in the crease earning his 29th career shutout, they pulled out a 3-0 victory to start their two-game Florida swing.
We may see Zatkoff again Saturday night versus the lowly Panthers, but Fleury clearly made a statement about his mental fortitude. While Tampa Bay is slumping without young star Steven Stamkos, it was an impressive rebound for Fleury after he had permitted three or more goals in consecutive starts for the first time this season.
After his recent playoff troubles, Fleury is eager to prove that he’s grown. How he performed the day after his 29th birthday may be a sign he’s able to put his struggles behind him, whether his coach realizes it or not.