Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending has been by far the No. 1 topic for the team this year.
Fleury and the Penguins had a disappointing second-round elimination in the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup playoffs via the Montreal Canadians. In that series, Fleury was not at his best to say the least. He allowed three or more goals in four of the seven games, including nine goals in the last two games.
This year was a highly anticipated year for the Penguins. We saw the opening of the beautiful new arena, the Consol Energy Center. The Penguins also participated in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field against their rivals, the Washington Capitals.
The Pens also entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
I, for one, expected Fleury to have a big year this year. I thought that he would use his poor performances from last season as motivation to have a career year. It just goes to show you that you can never truly expect anything.
Fleury had a miserable start to his season this year, going just 1-6 in his first seven starts. In those seven games, Fleury had a goals-against average of 3.54, which was good enough for second to last in the league.
His save percentage was even worse, dropping all the way down to 85 percent, which was 40th in the NHL.
During that span, Fleury was feeling the heat from coach Dan Bylsma, who pulled him from games on multiple occasions and even called him out during press conferences.
I guess you could say that he was just giving Fleury some tough love, but I don't condone calling players out in the media.
Fleury was also feeling heat from his backup, Brent Johnson.
Johnson has had a great year for a backup goalie. Johnson is 8-4-2 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
After Johnson's hot start, and with Fleury's struggles, I heard a lot of people saying that Johnson is the man and that Fleury is overrated—both of which are ridiculous statements.
Yes, Fleury had a bad start, and yes, Johnson has had a good year, but Fleury is, was and always will be a better goalie than Johnson.
And that's no knock to Johnson. Having a backup goalie that you can count on is only a good thing. However, Johnson has looked more like, well, Brent Johnson as of late.
One thing that has happened is he seems to have gotten his confidence back. His teammates have had his back in the media and the fans have been way more supportive at home games.
One thing you have to remember is all goalies go through slumps, even franchise goalies.
I've seen Patrick Roy give up nine goals on 20-some shots, and I've seen Martin Brodeur pulled on multiple occasions. Fleury may give up an occasional goal that makes you cringe, but in the same game he can make a save that can make you say, "How in the hell did he save that?"
Since Fleury's bad start, he's been absolutely stellar in net for the Pens. His numbers are now good enough to garner him some attention as a nominee for the Vezina trophy. For the season Fleury is now 23-11-2, with a .925 save percentage, and a 2.19 GAA, all of which are good enough to be in the top five in the league.
Yes, Fleury has a good team in front of him but lately the Pens have been without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Yet the Pens and Fleury continue to win. Fleury has won his last five starts, and has been outright dominant. He shut out the New York Islanders with 29 saves, and had 37 and 46 saves in wins over the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings.
If Crosby and Malkin continue to miss games, Fleury could very well end up being named the team MVP at the end of the season. He's going to a well-deserved All-Star Game, and might end up being named as a Vezina finalist.
Fleury has had some inconsistencies in the past, but now looks like he's finally playing up to his capabilities on a nightly basis. If Fleury plays this well in the playoffs the Pens will be poised to make another run at the Stanley Cup.
What Johnson did at the beginning of the year was huge for the Pens, and he should be recognized for that. However, Johnson is a career backup, albeit a good one.
No offense to Brent Johnson, but Fleury is the goalie for this team and will be the goalie for this team for a long time. Fleury has a pedigree. He's a No. 1 overall pick and a Stanley Cup champion. I think that what you have seen from Fleury lately is what you will see for most of the rest of the season.