Despite struggles in last year's playoffs, it's still Fleury's show
Rarely in Penguins history has a season hinged so much on one man.
And rarely has that man's future been so difficult to handicap.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury finds himself in the spotlight like never before, his career with the Penguins perhaps at a crossroads.
Fleury insists he is confident.
“I feel like I've gotten better as camp went on,” Fleury said. “My timing, everything, feels pretty good right now.”
Fleury didn't figure to feel intense pressure until April. Instead, he could be feeling it much earlier.
Penguins backup goalie Tomas Vokoun won't be ready to begin the season because of recent surgery to dissolve a blood clot. His return date is unknown.
Jeff Zatkoff, who starts the season as Fleury's backup, possesses no NHL experience.
The Penguins are OK with Fleury leading the way. In fact, his teammates seem to prefer in that way.
Although Fleury is coming off four consecutive playoff seasons that generally saw him play poorly, there remains little question that the locker room is strongly behind the former first overall pick. From stars to the fourth-liners, everyone has Fleury's back.
“I think he's a great goalie,” center Sidney Crosby said. “And I think he's going to do well this season.”
Crosby has long been a supporter of Fleury's. When the goaltender struggled mightily at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Crosby came to his defense, making it clear that Fleury — and not red-hot Brent Johnson — should be the team's starter.
Fleury did not look sharp during training camp, but his teammates don't mind.
“We all believe in that guy,” Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “I mean, he's just so talented. He's a great goalie.”
Fleury's September probably didn't inspire the goaltender with much positive energy. In the first scrimmage on the first day of training camp, Fleury faced five shots. He only stopped one of them.
Fleury didn't play especially well in the preseason opener in Columbus, nor was he sharp in another preseason contest against the Blue Jackets. He did, however, play well in the exhibition season finale in Detroit, where his save five years ago with one second remaining clinched the Stanley Cup.
“We still have confidence in him,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “There is no doubt about that.”
Zatkoff has performed well during his AHL career but remains an unknown commodity at the NHL level.
Vokoun, when healthy, is one of the NHL's finest backups. Before training camp began, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma referred to Fleury and Vokoun as the “best goalie tandem” in the NHL.
Vokoun's presence as a backup, to say nothing of his invaluable role as a team leader, could go a long way toward making this season a successful one for the Penguins.
Fleury regaining his old form, when he was viewed as hockey's finest big-game goalie, wouldn't be a bad thing for the Penguins.
One thing is certain: Fleury will receive the call early and often this season.
“I'm looking forward to it,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.