Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off one of the best regular seasons of his career. He won 39 games, good for second in the NHL, and his play was a big reason why the Penguins were able to run away with the Metropolitan Division.
But, as any Pittsburgh fan will tell you, there’s a big difference between the regular season and the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Fleury is a prime example of this. His last two postseason appearances were absolute disasters. He was shelled by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, and last year Pittsburgh was forced to bench him after he allowed 14 goals in four games played against the New York Islanders. The Penguins replaced him with veteran Tomas Vokoun, and other than mop-up duty in a conference finals loss against the Boston Bruins, he rode the pine through the majority of the postseason.
So, as nice as it was for Fleury to notch the second-most regular season wins in his career, it’s a safe bet he won’t be hanging his hat on this stat. For Pittsburgh’s starting netminder, it’s all about showing his team he can once again handle the high stakes of playoff hockey.
The team takes on an upstart Columbus Blue Jackets team making its second playoff appearance in franchise history. On paper, it looks like a series the Penguins should be able to handle. Then again, so did the Islanders series last year. Many expected Pittsburgh to wipe the ice with New York, but Fleury’s struggles resulted in the team having a difficult time with the Islanders. If he has issues again this time around, Columbus will certainly try to pounce on him.
What’s concerning is that Fleury isn’t an inexperienced goaltender. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in his career, winning one and posting solid numbers in both trips. If he was still raw, or had never made it past the first round, his recent struggles would be a little easier to explain. Instead, he’s actually one of the most experienced goalies in this postseason, yet he’s been trending downwards. So, despite having a Cup ring and putting together some solid regular seasons the past few years, Fleury can’t seem to get his game together any more when it comes to the postseason.
Making matters a little more complicated is the fact that Pittsburgh’s backup plan isn’t as solid as it was last year. Vokoun has been recalled for the playoffs, but he hasn’t taken the ice for the Penguins all season due to surgery he underwent to treat blood clots. Though he’s finally back with the team, he has a ton of rust to chip off and may not prove to be as reliable as he was last year because of this. Of course, in an ideal world for Pittsburgh, they won’t have to use Vokoun at all.
Fleury no doubt wants to make up for the struggles he ran into the past two postseasons. His regular season stats, as well as those compiled during both of his Stanley Cup runs show he’s capable of being a quality starter. Until he shows he’s fixed his recent playoff issues, however, he’ll continue to face his fair share of doubters. His first shot at postseason redemption is this Wednesday, and the Penguins certainly hope he’s ready to take on the task at hand.