Just one day into training camp and Dan Bylsma is already pumping his goalies’ tires.
On Tuesday, the Pens head coach said his netminders — Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun — were the “best tandem in the league,” according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Bylsma’s comments come after a summer in which Pittsburgh’s goaltending came under heavy scrutiny.
Fleury, who will enter the 2013-14 season as the club’s No. 1, lost his starting gig to Vokoun during the playoffs after some shaky outings in the first round against the Islanders.
Vokoun performed well enough in relief, though he did allow six goals in 42 shots in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, getting yanked in Game 2.
The Penguins have all taken a similar approach to discussing their goaltending situation throughout the summer and, apparently, into training camp.
The first part is saying they have faith in Fleury — “we believe in him,” captain Sidney Crosby told the Trib — and the second is confirming that, should Fleury falter, they’re comfortable having Vokoun between the pipes.
In spite of that, Bylsma made it clear the team won’t be employing a timeshare in goal this season.
The plan is for Fleury to get the majority of the starts, and the club is hopeful he can reclaim the form that saw him backstop Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps the most enigmatic goalie in the league.
That sounds crazy to say something like that about a player who’s not from a particular location in Europe, but if you can figure out how a guy who can play so well can look so bad in certain situations, the Pittsburgh Penguins may want to talk to you.
The Penguins didn’t figure goaltending would be an issue for them last season. After all, they had Fleury to start and Tomas Vokoun to back him up when he needed a break. It turned out he needed a break the most during the postseason as the New York Islanders found ways to continually beat him. Even GM Ray Shero wasn’t sure what would’ve happened had they not turned to Vokoun.
After the Pens were ousted by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, coach Dan Bylsma made it clear to say Fleury is their No. 1 goalie for this season. For both Fleury’s sake and the team’s sake, they have to hope he can find consistency and at the very least, he’s doing what he can off the ice to do it.
He’s started seeing a sports psychologist. He’ll have a new goalie coach in Mike Bales to work with. As far as how it plays out on the ice, the Pens are hoping it translates into raises in his save percentage.
While his goals-against average has been OK, Fleury isn’t breaking any records with the percentage of shots he’s stopping as he hasn’t cracked .920 since the 2007-08 season. That points towards consistency and that’s exactly what the Penguins have desperately needed in goal in the playoffs.
If Fleury can get his head and his play turned in the right direction, the Penguins will be incredibly tough to handle. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz provide plenty of offense as it is, but keeping opponents off the board is their bugaboo.
If Fleury can’t get right and Vokoun has to pick up the pieces in the regular season, can they go into another offseason wondering if he can get his act together? The Penguins having compliance buyouts to use might provide him with any motivation he needs to improve as soon as possible.
NHL goalies must cope with failure in just about every game, but even the steeliest netminder would probably be a little flustered by the lows of Marc-Andre Fleury’s last season.
The position can feel like a lonely one, so it makes sense that the Pittsburgh Penguins have reportedly been asking the 28-year-old to see a sports psychologist. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Fleury agreed to do so this summer.
Sports Illustrated passes along Fleury’s comments, which came in a French interview with RDS’ Antonin Besner on Thursday.
“It’s another tool,” Fleury said. “It’s something that can help you perform, so why not give it a try? I think it was an opportune time to meet with him.”
Penguins GM Ray Shero provided a simple explanation to the Tribune-Review.
“Goalie is a delicate position, no different than a golfer or a tennis player: You’re on your own a lot,” Shero said. “I think it’s a good step for him, which he’s really taken seriously since our year-end meeting. It’s kind of like the situation with Matt Cooke in that you can’t just hope you’re going to come back and things are going to be different.
“A lot of guys talk to somebody. It’s a confidence thing.”
(H/T to The Score.)
Related: Penguins hope Fleury uses Olympic snub as motivation
When Team Canada announced its list of players invited to their orientation camp, five goaltenders were included and none of them were Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
It looks like after years of struggling in the playoffs, his country has serious concerns about how he might perform internationally.
“The Olympic thing, I’m not going to make too much of,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But if he takes something personal, good for him.”
Being excluded from orientation camp doesn’t necessarily mean that Fleury won’t make the team, but he’ll have a particularly tough time. After all, if his performance in the playoffs is truly the problem, then that might be an unsolvable issue because he won’t get another shot at postseason redemption until after the Olympics.
Fleury might get off to a strong start in 2013-14, but his regular season performance has been adequate to great over the last few years anyways.
“The playoffs are the question mark he’s had the past four years,” Shero said. “I think it’s probably something on his mind.”
Perhaps Fleury will take the snub personally and that will be the motivation he needs going forward, even if it might be too late at this point for him to earn an Olympic spot.
Now that Jonathan Bernier is off the market, one of the teams that was in hot pursuit of him could turn their attention to another French-Canadian stopper.
Michael Russo of The Star Tribune reports the Minnesota Wild have inquired with the Pittsburgh Penguins about their maligned goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Wild were one of three teams believed to be in the final race for Bernier, but now that he’s off to Toronto the Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher have to look elsewhere.
Minnesota could just re-sign their own unrestricted free agent in Niklas Backstrom and stop their search, but their pursuit of Bernier indicates they’re headed in a different direction in goal. With the money the team has invested in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, skimping on goaltending would seem like a bad idea.