The Situation: Marc-Andre Fleury will sit for Friday night's game against the New York Islanders, and quite possibly - according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report on Thursday - for Saturday's tilt against the hated Phlyers.
I'm here to tell you that this is not a long-term problem. Pittsburgh fans, for some reason, go all Philadelphia when it comes to Marc-Andre Fleury. They look for problems no matter what when it comes to the Pens' netminder. I can't think of another Pittsburgh sports figure that has drawn this much active searching for criticism since maybe Kordell Stewart. But, like (the original) Slash, Fleury has done his best to earn Pittsburgh fans' ire in the early stages of this year.
Despite his slow start, I maintain that this is the transition year for Fleury. He's already shown his ability to come up enormous when it matters most. But, while my BN colleague Weagz' pointed out earlier today that Fleury should already be "grown up," I think this year's growing pains are intended - they are being prompted by the Pens' front office and coaching staff because Fleury clearly has more potential than he is living up to at present.
Everyone knows that goaltenders are odd creatures. They are said to mature into their true selves as they get closer to age 30. Fleury, at age 25, is getting there, but has also been a starter from a very early age. Now, the guys paying the bills have put the pressure on him to lift his game. He's changed his practice and gameday regimens in response, and his relationship with goaltending coach Gilles Meloche has been tweaked. All of this change is bound to wreck havoc on even the sturdiest-minded netminder (a contradiction in terms, I know). The point, though, is that by early December, Marc-Andre Fleury will emerge a stronger presence between the pipes, and then look 'aht, Atlantic Division!
My Philadelphia phan counterparts can attest to my "tolerance" of Marc-Andre Fleury to this point. I have been on record for the past several years for combining Fleury's potential and skill with his inconsistency, pretty much guaranteeing that if he were to give up one goal, he'd give up four. It has been either a shutout level of play, or something that leaves Pens fans thanking the hockey deities for a high-powered offense to overcome his play (especially his playing of the puck behind the net).
So, remember. You heard it hear first. Fleury's (apparent) benching is not unexpected by this Pens fan. But neither will his second-half dominance be a shock to me. Marc-Andre Fleury will be this year's Conn-Smythe Award winner.
Note: I'm adding some graphics for Rankin's argument. Cam Ward, a goalie many agree has played well for the Hurricanes, is a useful comparison for Fleury because they both became regulars at roughly the same time. The save percentages shown are split between even-strength and penalty-kill save percentages. The win percentages are of games started during this period. Click on the pictures for larger/clearer images. --- Matteau