It's 15 games into the season and Fleury still hasn't rebounded from a shaky start (or a shaky end to last year) and it has become the focus of the Penguins' young season so far, and rightfully so. A franchise goalie, a Cup-winning goalie at that, with an impressive resumé of big time saves, of clutch performances, and with an incredible history of bouncing back from tough outings has seemingly failed every test this season and continues a slump which has seen his self-confidence and the coach's confidence in him plummet faster than his numbers.
One could argue that Bylsma's sporadic method of playing him and lack of patience (as Crosby's argues) has not helped his cause, and I would agree, but this post isn't about that. This post is about something which I see as being a more fundamental problem. The goalie coach. Not being a goalie himself, Byslma can be excused for not knowing how to get into the head of a goalie, so the main responsibility for coaching Fleury out of his slump falls on the shoulders of Meloche. Yet I have not heard his name mentioned once this season in conjunction with Flower's struggles.
To put in perspective the importance of a goalie coach, just ask the Flyers how much better their mid-range talent goaltending got once they hired Jeff Reese as goalie coach. The fundamentals of their goaltenders' games improved dramatically and so did Philly's record. Some things a goalie does can be coached one way or another, and some can't. Talent, athleticism, flexibility, vision -- these are all things a coach has minimal effect on. But Fleury has all these qualities in abundance. What are his primary flaws (besides confidence - which, incidentally, a good goalie coach would likely be able to help with as well) right now, and throughout his career? Positioning, rebound control, playing the puck, conservation of movement. These are all things that a good coach can fix in very little time, yet Meloche has had a great deal of time to work with Fleury on these issues, which are not new. I have a hard time believing Fleury is a poor student of the game, or that he can't be taught. It seems more likely that he has a bad teacher. In the last few years I have seen very few examples of areas in which Meloche has worked with Fleury that Fleury managed to improve dramatically. At various times, he improved his rebound control and conservation of movement, but never by enough, and never consistently. Much of the lessons he has learned seem to have come from more experienced goalies like Ty Conklin, from whom Fleury learned to play the puck less abysmally. Bylsma has recently implied shoddy practice habits on Fleury's part as well, which can be eradicated by a good goalie coach.
The Penguins' mediocre start is not only on the goaltending - injuries (particularly to Staal, with whom Cups are won), and another underachieving superstar have played a huge role in it. But the Penguins have always gone as far as Fleury will take them. Bridge jumpers have pointed fingers at Bylsma for being unable to correct his team's fundamental problems and get a consistent effort or systematic structure from them on a nightly basis; at Malkin for his paltry 4 goals; at Comrie for being invisible; at Shero for not trading for a solid winger or two, but lost in this shuffle is one member of the coaching staff who has never proven his abilities in the same way Bylsma, Malkin, and Shero have: Gilles Meloche. Is it time for a change?