Nov 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save against Anaheim Ducks center Andrew Cogliano (7) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Why is Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury so good in shootouts?

Although Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t at his absolute best Wednesday night in New York, he certainly finished on a high, denying all five Rangers shootout attempts as the Pens skated out of Madison Square Garden with a 4-3 victory.

His counterpart Henrik Lundqvist almost matched Fleury in the shootout, stopping the likes of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Jussi Jokinen and Pascal Dupuis before Brandon Sutter went five-hole in the fifth round to give Pittsburgh its fifth straight win.

That the game ended with a first-class goaltending exhibition was no surprise: among active netminders with at least 20 career shootouts, Fleury (.773) and Lundqvist (.759) are first and third in save percentage, respectively. Partially as a result of Fleury’s shootout excellence, the Penguins have 57 wins and a .655 winning percentage in the tiebreaker, both of which are NHL bests.

As we know, Fleury has been a good-but-not-great goalie for most of his 10-year Penguins career. His previous best save percentage for a season in which he played more than 35 games is .918, a mark he is on pace to top if he can stay near his current .924 pace.

Beyond statistics, Fleury has struggled with bouts of inconsistency – most notably in the Pens’ last four playoff appearances – which have downgraded his reputation in Pittsburgh and around the NHL. However, the 29-year-old always looks comfortable is when the game comes down to a series of one-on-one battles.

Fleury’s clean sheet Wednesday night put all his shootout prowess on display:

Fleury’s lunging saves on Mats Zuccarello (first round) and Brad Richards (fourth round) demonstrated how tough it is to deke around the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. Both Rangers shooters made shifty moves to the forehand, but couldn’t stuff it around the athletic Fleury. In Richards’ case, Fleury flashed the poke check before recovering to make a save not many goalies in the world could pull off.

New York’s Rick Nash (second round) and Dominic Moore (third round) eschewed the deke option in favor of the shot. Against Nash, Fleury stood up the whole way, covering the high-glove wrister; one round later, Fleury determined that Moore was trying to stash it through his legs, so he put a knee down to stymie that.

Benoit Pouliot was the lone Ranger to try a backhand, but Fleury smothered his attempt and forced a high-and-wide miss. It seems Fleury is usually one step ahead of the opposing shooters, a result of accumulated repetitions and athletic instinct.

Maybe there’s an intangible quality in play, too. As the HBO cameras (and microphones) chronicled three years ago on the first NHL 24/7 series, Fleury relishes the challenge of tending goal, especially when it’s an individual showdown. While some goalies may feel exposed apart from their teammates, Fleury thinks it’s his time to shine:

Combine that palpable love of competition with a rare skill set and you have the NHL’s all-time top shootout goalie. When extra standings points are up for grabs in the tiebreaker, the Penguins have a distinct advantage in Fleury.


Tags: Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh Penguins

  • TomD

    Fleury is flexible and able to react side-to-side quickly. I think this is what makes him such a good shootout goaltender. And I think you’re right, he seems to relish the one-on-one challenge and the straight-at-him approach that the shootout presents to him. And, in the shootout, the shots are generally from in front of him at relatively close range. Here he excels.

    Where he frequently gets into trouble is on action originating from behind the net and when he gives up big rebounds to opponents trailing the play. And there are too many late period goals, especially in the third period. Although his numbers have been good so far this year in the regular season, he has bouts of inconsistency. But if you look at the premier goaltenders in the league, they have bad games too. He is probably playing too many minutes; his Time on Ice is second in the league for goaltenders, only behind Antti Niemi of San Jose. As you said, so far, Fleury has been a good but not great goaltender.

    I guess we will see if Fleury can correct his recent playoff problems. Zatkoff is making good progress as the back-up, his numbers have improved greatly from his first two starts. If Vokoun does not return, which seems likely now, it appears that Fleury and Zatkoff are the playoff tandem in goal. Will this be good enough for the Penguins to advance far, all the way to the finals, in the playoffs?

    • Matt Gajtka

      Appreciate the comment, Tom. Obviously Fleury is going to have to carry the load in the playoffs, but Zatkoff’s better play lately should give Bylsma the confidence to share the ice time more equally for the rest of the season.

      I’ve tried to determine what, if anything, is different about Marc this season. He’s probably a little more calm in net, but it’s tough to detect too much on video alone. New goalie coach Mike Bales has talked about experimenting with some slight adjustments, so maybe those are being implemented.

      You’re right, he does “lose his net” during times of confusion, but there’s none better in the face-up situations that a shootout provides.

      • TomD

        Matt, your response got me thinking about what it is about Fleury’s game that gets him into trouble. I have this thought:

        In the past, the premier goaltenders were primarily “stand-up” style, not known for their athleticism. Think Ken Dryden. Today, the style seems to be very different, more movement and athletic in style. This new style may result in more “inconsistency” because the goaltenders are moving so much, exercising their athleticism, if you will, leaving themselves open to “unusual outcomes.”

        Of course, the game is more athletic and faster today, so the style of the entire game has changed, not just goaltenders. Perhaps the new goaltending style is an adaptation to the new game. But it has, I think on reflection, opened the door to more inconsistency from goaltenders. They’re more fun to watch, but more frustrating to root for ;)

        • Matt Gajtka

          Goaltending’s never been better – save percentage has been on a constant climb since the mid 1980s. Maybe some of that is people in general getting taller and bigger, thus covering more net, but I don’t know if I’d say they’re more inconsistent. There’s more movement involved, but that’s a product of a quicker game, as you wrote.

          It’s such a chaotic position at times, which is why save percentage can’t ever tell the whole story.

          • TomD

            Matt, I have enjoyed our exchange. I’ll take your word for it that the numbers today, such as save percentage, are better. A quick online look at statistics seems to confirm it. I think that the enhanced athleticism of the game has made it a much better game overall.

            However, I failed to make the tie-in from the general to the specific concerning inconsistency with regards to Fleury. My point was that, perhaps, there is something unique in Fleury’s athletic style that leaves him open to “unusual outcomes.” Imagine what his GAA and Sav% would be if he minimized or eliminated the “unusual outcomes.” He be a premier goaltender in the league, not just a good one.

            One conclusion to draw is that the increased athleticism of goaltenders today has to be matched by a constant focus on ” in-goal and on-ice awareness,” if those terms makes any sense.

          • Matt Gajtka

            Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I think Marc-Andre will always have a certain “raggedness” to his game because he’s such a dynamic athlete. It’s almost like you can’t have it both ways. Most of the “technical” goaltenders out there aren’t what I would consider great athletes, but they’re able to repeat a motion over and over.

          • TomD

            There is a tendency, I think, with highly skilled athletes, to rely too much on that pure athleticism. They think that their athletic skills can always carry the day.

            They need to be coached into taking other elements of the game into consideration, such as the in-goal and on-ice awareness that I mentioned, and not to solely focus on their athleticism. Come to think of it, what distinguished Wayne Gretzky as such a great player was his “awareness” of the game. Gretzky wasn’t the most impressive athletic talent, but his “hockey sense” may have been as great as anyone who has ever played the game.

            Many great athletes are too one dimensional in how they approach their sport. I believe that Marc-Andre could benefit from being coached, even at this stage of his career, to develop that “awareness” instinct more, with a conscious awareness perfected during practice that develops into instinctive awareness during the game.

            Of course, this assumes that he is open to such instruction and coaching. Many natural athletes aren’t.

          • Matt Gajtka

            This is why I’m glad the Pens brought in a new goalie coach for this year. Sometimes you just need a fresh voice to break through the static.

  • Rick Eger

    Talk too us when he wins a play off game.