Under Pressure: Marc-Andre Fleury

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“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.

Video: Trouba receives match penalty for hit on Flames’ Hrivik

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Tempers flared during the third period of Monday’s preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba received a match penalty for a hit at the blue line on Flames forward Marek Hrivik, leading to a melee along the boards.

Garnet Hathaway took exception to the hit, immediately jumping in and dropping the gloves with Trouba. Hathaway was also assessed an instigator penalty.

The hit occurred just after Hrivik dumped the puck into the Jets zone. Trouba stepped up at the line and delivered the hit, sending Hrivik hard to the ice.

Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice commented on the hit after the game:

The league’s Department of Player Safety has been busy over the past few days, handing out preseason suspensions to Capitals forward Tom Wilson and, on Monday, Rangers forward Andrew Desjardins.

Offseason changes to Capitals, Penguins could make the East wide open

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A handful of Pittsburgh Penguins players whose names are on the Stanley Cup, some of them twice or even three times, are gone.

The same goes for core players from the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

The goliaths of the East haven’t fallen apart, but maybe they’ve lost just enough to make the conference winnable for just about anyone. Pittsburgh no longer has forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, defensemen Trevor Daley or goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington couldn’t afford to keep Justin Williams, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Penguins and Capitals are still favored to finish 1-2 in the brutal Metropolitan Division, but improvements made by the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and a return to health for members of the Tampa Bay Lightning have cracked the Eastern Conference wide open.

“The competition level is as high as ever,” Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “There’s a lot of teams that have a chance to win the Cup. Making the playoffs, it’s very tough nowadays. I think we’re not the only team when we always say, `We want to make the playoffs and then we’ll see what happens’ because you just want to make the playoffs and then anything can happen. There’s no real favorites.”

Pittsburgh is still the betting favorite, and if Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. make it happen they’d become the first NHL team with three consecutive titles since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty. Then again, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is healthy after a knee injury ended his 2016-17 season, the Hurricanes got a top goaltender in Scott Darling and the Toronto Maple Leafs are only expected to get better now that Auston Matthews and the kids have some playoff experience.

“Toronto obviously made a big step forward, Columbus is a team that has tremendous upside, made a big move this summer, and then you look at a team like Carolina who’s going to be knocking on the door in the next few years,” said Shattenkirk, who signed with the revamped Rangers.

In a league with considerable playoff turnover from year to year, there’s no rest for the eight teams that made it last year: the Penguins, Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Bruins and Maple Leafs. But Fleury, now the starter for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, believes his old team has a chance to three-peat, and Alex Ovechkin said the Capitals will be good.

“Our goal is still to go out there and be the best team in the regular season and be the best team in the postseason,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said. “It’s not a very far-fetched goal.”

Some things to watch in the Eastern Conference this season:

YOUTH IS SERVED

Matthews is only 20, but now there’s a whole new crop of potential teenage stars, including the New Jersey Devils’ No. 1 pick , Nico Hischier, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ No. 2 pick, Nolan Patrick. The Swiss-born Hischier turned heads with some big-time plays in the preseason and in the process ratcheted up expectations.

PRICE IS RIGHT

The Canadiens lost defenseman Andrei Markov and winger Alexander Radulov and traded their top defensive prospect for forward Jonathan Drouin. Montreal probably should make the playoffs despite all the changes because of goaltender Carey Price, who won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2014-15 and missed most of the 2015-16 season with a knee injury.

“He is the best goalie in the NHL,” Drouin said. “He’s proved it for a lot of years now.”

Price has some competition in Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington’s Braden Holtby, the past two Vezina winners. The play of those three and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray will likely determine the order of finish in the East.

C’MON, CROSBY

After leading the league with 44 goals in the regular season and the playoffs with 27 assists, there’s no doubting Crosby has another MVP season in him. Teammates and opponents always expect him to sharpen another skill, though he could just keep scoring goals better than anyone else.

“He was always, I think, a passer a little more – always looking for other guys,” Fleury said. “But he doesn’t have a crazy hard shot. It’s just how quick the release is. He’s skating, he’s looking around and the shot comes (from) any angle. His backhand is good too, probably as hard as anybody.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS ON BIG CITY

The Rangers added Shattenkirk, re-signed Brendan Smith and traded Derek Stepan to retool while goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still in his prime. Across town, the Islanders are hoping to re-sign captain John Tavares before he can become a free agent next summer New York is where it’s at, and there’s no shortage of drama.

SUNRISE REDUX

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has gone to great lengths to undo some of the moves made in the summer of 2016 when he was shifted out of a position of power. Defenseman Jason Demers and forward Reilly Smith are gone, Bob Boughner is the new coach and big things are expected in South Florida.

“We’ve got to go in one direction and never look back,” winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. “That’s what we want to do, and Dale Tallon knows that. We want to build something with Bob and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

 

Flames to receive NHL revenue sharing funds, says King

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Last week, the Flames stated they would no longer pursue a new arena in Calgary after two years of discussions with the city.

On Monday, Flames president and CEO Ken King said the organization is now receiving funds as part of the National Hockey League’s revenue sharing.

From CBC:

He said the team used to be among the top 10 revenue-earning teams in the NHL who, under the league’s revenue-sharing agreement, contribute funds to the lower-earning teams.

“We have now crossed the line. We are now receivers. We’ll get a cheque this year. Isn’t that ridiculous, in this beautiful market?” he said.

“And I can say, sadly, that we have crossed one of the remedies off the list, and that is the new facility. I honestly do not know where that part of the story is going to end.”

He also stated that the organization’s decision to publicly state it will no longer pursue a new arena in Calgary was not political posturing.

The Flames currently play out of the Saddledome, which is 34 years old and has drawn criticism from the team, as well as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Last week, the Flames released a report online and in local newspaper advertisements, saying they were prepared to contribute $275 million in funding toward a new arena. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responded, saying there were some “errors of omission” in what the Flames released.

NHL suspends Desjardins two preseason games for illegal check to the head

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has issued another two-game preseason suspension, this time to Andrew Desjardins of the New York Rangers.

The incident occurred during the first period of Saturday’s game between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as Desjardins delivered a hit to the head of Miles Wood.

Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, and a two-game preseason ban on Monday.

“Desjardins, looking to prevent Wood from cutting to the front of the net, steps in front of Wood and delivers a high hit, which makes the head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” stated the Department of Player Safety in a video explanation.

“It is important to note that Wood is eligible to be hit on this play, provided it is done in a legal manner. However, rather than taking an angle of approach that results in a legal, full-bodied check, Desjardins takes an angle of approach that picks Wood’s head, making it the main point of contact.”

The Rangers are in action right now versus the Philadelphia Flyers. They have one game remaining on their preseason schedule after tonight, as they take on the Flyers again tomorrow.

Desjardins was attending Rangers camp on a professional tryout.