Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury's Career Arrives at a Crossroads

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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury's Career Arrives at a Crossroads
USA Today

Soak in Marc-Andre Fleury while you can during the Stanley Cup playoffs, because it may be the final time you get to see him as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Fleury will be between the pipes when the Penguins commence their first-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night. The Penguins went 5-0 against the Blue Jackets during the regular season and are the No. 2 team in the East. They are expected to contend for a Stanley Cup or, at the very least, get back to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight season.

A third consecutive disastrous postseason from Fleury, however, will bring a swift end to the Penguins' hopes and likely the 29-year-old goaltender's time in Pittsburgh.

In his previous two seasons, Fleury had a respectable regular season before crumbling like a glass menagerie during an earthquake. He went 42-17-4 with a 2.36/.913 split during the 2011-12 season before the Philadelphia Flyers scored 26 goals in six games to beat Fleury and the Penguins in the first round. Last season, Fleury went 23-8-0 with a 2.39/.916 split during the 2013 season before once again imploding in the playoffs, allowing 14 goals in Games 2-4 against the New York Islanders in the first round.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

That time, coach Dan Bylsma turned to Tomas Vokoun for Game 5, and the Penguins went all the way to the conference finals with the experienced backup leading the way.

This time, Bylsma has no such luxury.

The safety net for the Penguins in 2014 is Jeff Zatkoff, a rookie with 20 games of NHL experience.

If Fleury is seen vomiting on himself against the Blue Jackets or even in the second round against the New York Rangers or Flyers, this will likely be the end of the road for the beleaguered goaltender.

Fall apart in the playoffs once, shame on you.

Fall apart in the playoffs twice, shame on Fleury.

Fall apart in the playoffs three times, well, then it's getting depressing.

General manager Ray Shero could not in good conscience allow for Fleury to do the same thing a fourth time in 2014-15.

Fall apart in the playoffs four times, fire everybody, including Shero.

Marc-Andre Fleury's past two postseasons
Year Record GAA Sv. Pct Result
2012 2-4 4.63 .834 Pens lose in round one
2013 2-2 3.52 .883 Benched in round one

NHL.com

Fleury has one year remaining on his contract, which carries a $5 million cap hit. Another postseason implosion would have to result in the Penguins using an amnesty buyout of that contract, which would cost the team about $1.9 million to rid themselves of a player that could no longer be relied upon to help the team win a Stanley Cup.

Looking at the unrestricted free-agent goaltender market, the timing of a Fleury buyout makes a lot of sense. Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak will all likely be available in July for a price similar to the $5 million Fleury would cost the team in the 2014-15. There's no guarantee that Miller, Hiller or Halak would bring a Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, but with a guarantee that Fleury will never bring another Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, it can't hurt to sign a new No. 1 goaltender this summer.

If Shero wanted to ride out Fleury's contract and wait until 2015, Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop are the two best goaltenders set to be available next summer, but all indications are that the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning aren't letting those guys walk away.

The Penguins could go with a co-No. 1 goaltender situation next season that allows the team to use someone else once the postseason begins in 2015. But again, if Fleury loses the trust of the organization after a third straight blowup, why carry him on the roster at all next season?

Fleury could very well keep it together for the Penguins this postseason. It's just as likely that the team's lack of depth beyond its top two lines will be the real downfall of the club, and not Fleury. Should the Penguins lose in Round 2 because they can't generate secondary scoring while Fleury plays well, he'll be back for the final year of his contract in 2014-15.

But if there's any carryover from Fleury's last start of the regular season Saturday, when he allowed one of the worst goals of 2013-14 to lose the game in overtime against the Flyers, be prepared to wish him a fond farewell after the season.

 

SIX LETTERS

(If you'd like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)

 

Choosing the best dialogue from Fin Tutuola is like deciding which child you love most—you always tell people that you love them all the same but deep down inside, you know there is one you love more than the rest. 

In researching my answer for this (seriously, I did research), I found a Twitter account of Fin Tutuola quotes that appears to have given up on itself a year ago. That's tragic. Nine out of 10 fake/parody/joke Twitter accounts go under within the first month of starting, so think twice about starting one.

But after breezing through that page and looking through IMDb and other various sources, I decided on this:

"You have the right to an attorney and if you throw up in my car, I'll kill ya."

That quote should be in the back of every cab that has those prices for what it will cost to clean it if you puke in it. Hopefully we can decide on Ice-T's best line in Richochet in next week's Bag Skate.

 

I really don't think there's going to be that nutty team that gets beyond the second round this season. All the wild-card teams have chances to win their series, but I don't see any of them getting to the conference finals. I really, really like the wild-card teams in the West, but if Dallas does beat Anaheim, I don't see Dallas beating Los Angeles or San Jose. Same thing with Minnesota; yeah, the Wild can beat Colorado, but they'll get rolled by Chicago.

I wish I could say I believe there's a 2012 Los Angeles Kings lurking out there, but I don't think it's going to happen.

 

Not Detroit. Montreal and the Rangers maybe. Not Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

If Henrik Zetterberg was back for the first round, I'd give the Red Wings a fighting chance. As it stands, I don't think they can do it.

I give the Habs a really good chance (picked them to win in Round 2) because of their penchant for getting under the Bruins' skin and Carey Price. The Rangers match up somewhat well with the Bruins and could take them in a seven-game series if Henrik Lundqvist plays out of his mind.

That's about it, though. 

 

Riding high doesn't really matter. Just about every team that enters the postseason is playing well, so there's not too much of a difference between a team being 8-2-0 or 7-3-0 in their final 10 games. 

The problem is if you're playing poorly, it's almost impossible to flip a switch when the playoffs begin.

In 2012, only the Florida Panthers (2-3-5) had a losing record entering the playoffs. They lost in seven games in Round 1 to the New Jersey Devils.

In 2011, only the Philadelphia Flyers (3-4-3) had a losing record entering the playoffs. They beat the Buffalo Sabres in Round 1 before being swept by the Bruins in Round 2.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

In 2010, only the Colorado Avalanche (3-5-2) had a losing record entering the playoffs. They lost in the first round to the San Jose Sharks.

In 2009, five teams (Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Calgary and Columbus) all lost more games than they won in their final 10 games. The Red Wings lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Penguins, while the other four teams all lost in the first round.

The last team to have a losing record in its final 10 games and win the Stanley Cup was the 2002 Detroit Red Wings, who went 1-3-4-2 down the stretch and lost the first two games of their first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks. The Red Wings went 16-5 in their next 21 games and won the Cup.

The only teams to win fewer than five of their final 10 games this season were the St. Louis Blues (3-7) and the Flyers (4-3-3). So if you'd like to cross them off now, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

 

What a segue into this question. I think the Blues are in massive trouble and are going to get steamrolled by the Blackhawks. They have looked lost the past couple weeks while losing six straight, and Ryan Miller has looked nothing like the goaltender who was playing so well in Buffalo. Bad times are ahead for the Blues.

The Blackhawks are almost at full strength with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane returning, but the one thing the Blues have going for them is home-ice advantage. The Blackhawks are just 19-14-8 on the road, while the Blues are 28-9-4 at home, the fifth-best mark in the league.

That's some serious straw grasping, I know, but if Chicago takes Games 1 and 2, you can turn off that series altogether.

 

mike toole
re: bag skate.
have you ever met ron duguay and were you able to touch his hair?

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

That's a question from my friend Mike Toole, who is on Twitter yet chose to send me his question via g-chat just to destroy the formatting because he thinks he's special.

I have met Ron Duguay multiple times and once asked him a question about his hair. It was about him playing in the alumni game before the Winter Classic with the Flyers. I asked if he would allow a helmet to cover his glorious hair. I'm pretty sure he said no and didn't wear a helmet during the game. I wouldn't if I had his hair.

However, I did not touch his hair. If I were to discover it was a wig, I would be devastated. 

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com.

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