With names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang it is easy to forget about the man between the pipes for the Pittsburgh Penguins. But rest assured the Penguins do not take Marc-Andre Fleury for granted.
“You can probably make a strong case that he’s been our most important player this year.” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma told Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s not probably, he’s been the best player for us.”
Coming off a year where it looked like Fleury has reached an all-time low, being benched after four playoff games, Fleury looks like to be the franchise goalie again that Penguins fans have come to expect from him.
Much of the credit goes to Fleury, who leads the league in wins with 27 and has a save percentage of .917. But some of the credit has to go to new goalie coach Mike Bales.
Bales could have came in here and changed Fleury’s game after the disastrous playoff runs the past two years, but didn’t. He let Fleury stay who he was. He kept everything that made Fleury who he was. Instead, Bales made one subtle change that if you really weren’t looking for it you would never know.
That change is Fleury’s post work. Being able to play off his post in different situations and being in better position for wraparound attempts, especially this year with the shallower nets.
The Penguins lead the NHL with 289 man-games missed and Fleury has carried the team to the best record in the Eastern Conference as they sit five points ahead of Boston with a mark of 34-13-2 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Going into this season the Penguins were counting on Fleury more than ever, especially with backup Tomas Vokoun going down with a blood clot issue. While that may have worried some Penguins fan going into the season, everyone associated with the Penguins had faith in him.
“Marc’s won a lot of games for us,” general manager Ray Shero told Rossi. “He’s been a big reason why we keep getting into the playoffs, which gets harder to do every year. You just can’t ignore the 35-plus wins he gives you every year.”
Fleury has awarded their faith in him as he is on pace to start a career-high 67 games.
While Fleury still has to prove that he can shake his recent playoff woes, and I believe that he will, opponents should be worried that he appears to be back and on top of his game.
Drew Shetler is a staff writer for City of Champions.