Kovacevic: Fleury hot, but time to cool it
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Dan Bylsma won't name the Penguins' goaltender for Wednesday's game until sometime before the faceoff with the Flyers, but here's betting it'll be Marc-Andre Fleury.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Fleury's been fantastic of late. In winning the past three games over the Senators, Jets and Sabres, he's stopped 82 of 88 shots and soared into the NHL lead with eight wins.
Let's put it another way: The other night in Winnipeg, shortly after Fleury lost a shutout in the waning minutes on Andrew Ladd's backhand rebound into a half-empty net, Fleury shook his head as he told me, “I should have had that.”
There's a temptation to run someone sizzling like that out there night after night.
But it had better be resisted.
Remember all that talk during the brief training camp about how, now that the Penguins had a bona fide backup in Tomas Vokoun, and now that they had to cope with a condensed 48-game schedule, there would be a different dynamic?
Remember Bylsma projecting Fleury and Vokoun would split at a ratio of “60/40 or 55/45?”
Well, while everyone's been enjoying the team's bounce-back from that awful weekend against the Devils, maybe it's gone unnoticed that Fleury has started six of the past seven games.
And that, overall, Fleury has made 11 starts to Vokoun's five, a ratio that's roughly 70/30.
If anyone thinks that's a good idea, then there's some serious short-term memory involved.
Need I remind …
• Fleury played a career-high 67 games last season and won a career-best 42. Some lauded him as the Penguins' MVP even though eventual league MVP Evgeni Malkin was on the roster.
• Fleury began to fade in his final five regular-season games, smoked for 17 goals, but the coaching staff continued to start him because all trust had been lost in Brent Johnson.
• Fleury utterly fell apart against the Flyers in the playoffs. You don't need those numbers again, do you?
Didn't think so. It can't happen again.
Ray Shero's smartest move of the offseason — yes, even smarter than sticking by Paul Martin — was signing Vokoun. The GM not only found a quality veteran willing to take less — just $2.5 million — to join a contender, but also one who's still got it at age 36. Just ask the last-place Capitals if they wouldn't love him back.
The Penguins absolutely can't let Vokoun go to waste.
Or to get disillusioned.
By every account, the latter isn't close to happening. But I checked, anyway, Tuesday after practice at Consol Energy Center.
“Sure, it's different. You don't play as much,” Vokoun said, with a small laugh. “But there are always tradeoffs for things in life. I wanted to be on a good team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. When you make that decision, you never know what's going to happen. I'm here to help the team. If I play ‘X' games, I play ‘X' games. Over the years, I've played enough games to know what to do.”
Good for him.
Shouldn't surprise anyone. Vokoun's been a model teammate and goaltending partner.
But he's also a pro. He deserves a chance to maintain his own strong play, which includes a 3-2 record, 2.27 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and a shutout.
More to the point, the Penguins — with their elite talent, their toughness and diversity — deserve better than yet another early playoff exit.
That's why Fleury's vote shouldn't count. Not anymore. Especially not after the meltdown last spring.
Oh, he's having fun, sure. Just look at his grin when saying, “I'm feeling pretty good right now.” Or watch him make a childish fool of himself, as he did in cracking up everyone at practice Tuesday with some shootout hijinx.
And that's great. That's ideal, actually. Fleury's a colossal piece of the franchise.
So go ahead and give him another shot at the Flyers, if that's the call. He beat them in the season opener, and he still might have a demon or two to shoo away.
But after that, the Penguins face the Panthers in two of the next three games. That was Vokoun's employer in 2007-11, and he has a better book than most on their shooters.
Next week also starts a stretch with four of five games on the road. The next three weeks sees one other break as long as two days.
The rest of the season crams in 20 games in 48 days.
There's plenty enough high-velocity vulcanized rubber to go around.
Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
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