PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a drink during the season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on January 19, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Under Pressure: Marc-Andre Fleury


“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins we picked…goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

On a team that typically has no trouble scoring goals and in recent years has almost always been regarded as a major Stanley Cup contender, Fleury has become something of a blemish.

The most frustrating part for this franchise is that goaltending shouldn’t be this big of an issue. Fleury should be up to the task. He was once a highly regarded prospect and has even excelled at times, but he’s also struggled for four straight playoff runs. And it’s only gotten worse.

Although he wasn’t solely to blame, Fleury couldn’t seem to buy a save against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. After that, the Penguins decided to get a backup goaltender they could depend on in Tomas Vokoun.

The Penguins still went right back to Fleury for the start of the 2013 regular season, but they were ready when he went cold again in the playoffs. Vokoun took over and helped guide them to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2009.

That didn’t stop coach Dan Bylsma from firmly stating that Fleury was still their number one goaltender, although as it happens they temporarily have little choice due to Vokoun’s health issues.

Still, while the Penguins remain largely loyal to the former first overall pick, questions about his ability to step up in high-pressure games have to be on their minds. It was probably a factor when Hockey Canada declined to invite him to their Olympic orientation camp despite the fact that the 28-year-old made the 2010 gold medal-winning team.

It has to be weighing on Fleury, too. How many second chances will he get? His contract expires in the summer of 2015. If he can’t shake his current reputation, will there be a team out there willing to offer him a long-term deal?

Fleury’s path to redemption starts in October, but it certainly can’t end there. A great regular season won’t shake away the doubts or stigma surrounding him. After all, he had a solid regular season in 2013 and it didn’t solve anything. To get out from under this, he will need to be at his best this spring.

Otherwise the Penguins will be struck with a disturbing sense of déjà vu and on a team that’s trying to win at all cost while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their prime, they would be hard pressed to simply go through this again with Fleury in 2014-15.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado