As I was leaving the game Wednesday night, I overheard many of the typical complaints and grumbles that one would expect after a tough loss. But to hear the suggestion that "the Pens would be unbeatable with a good goalie," under the insinuation that Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t a good goaltender, nearly made my head explode.
I understand that Pittsburgh sports fans are fickle, but give me a break.
Last year, it was Fleury who made the biggest save in Penguins’ history (other than Mario’s save of the franchise) when he dove across his crease to rob Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds of Game Seven in the Stanley Cup Finals.
This year, after Game One of the Penguins’ opening series against the Senators, it was Fleury who was receiving boos that rained down from the Mellon Arena faithful. No matter what Fleury does, Pens’ fans never seem to be satisfied.
Let’s consider the main gripes people have with Fleury:
One of Fleury’s biggest weaknesses has always been his tendency to give up big rebounds in front of the net. Fleury gives up a lot of goals on second chances that could be avoided if he controlled his rebounds off the initial shot (see Ottawa’s first goal of Game One).
Watching Fleury can be very frustrating at times. While one minute he’ll make a spectacular save that no other goalie in the NHL can make, the next he’ll let a weak shot trickle through his pads and into the net.
Numbers never tell the whole story, but many people choose to cite Fleury’s statistics as reason to doubt his abilities, as they are very ordinary. He has a career save percentage of .906 and a career goals against average of 2.82. In addition he has recorded only 16 shutouts in the 302 career games he has started.
Now, let’s consider Fleury’s strengths:
I’ll go out on a limb and say it: Fleury is the most athletic goalie in the NHL. He makes saves that no one should be able to make. He is unbelievably quick, especially in his side-to-side movements, and you can never count him out of a play.
Simply put, Fleury plays his best when the most is needed of him. He has won seven of his nine playoffs series entering the 2010 playoff season and has a knack for coming up with huge saves at crucial moments. You want examples? I’ve got plenty (all of which are from last year’s playoff season):
Game Two toe save on Jeff Carter keeping the Pens within one goal with less than ten minutes left in the game. Pens come back to win the game in overtime (Conference Quarterfinals).
Game Seven glove save on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway to quiet the Washington crowd three minutes into the game. Pens go on to win 6-2 (Conference Semifinals).
Breakaway save on Dan Cleary with less than two minutes remaining in Game Six. Pens go on to win 2-1 (Stanley Cup Finals).
Diving save on Nicklas Lidstrom as time ticked away in Game Seven. Pens win 2-1 (Stanley Cup Finals).
So Pens fans, you have one of two choices: you can continue to doubt “The Flower” and find reasons to complain about his game. Or you can accept him for what he is, knowing that when push comes to shove, he is going to win games.
Yes, he had a bad night on Wednesday, but I will guarantee you one thing: he’ll bounce back.
He always does.