Key Stat: After an encouraging 8-2-1 record in March with a 2.22 goals against average and .924 save percentage, Marc-Andre Fleury crumpled in April with (regular season and playoff combined) mark of 2-5, 4.17 GAA and .854 sv%.
Interesting Note: Aside from 2007-08, when an ankle injury forced Fleury to miss 27 games, no Penguins backup goalie has appeared in more than 23 games in the past six seasons (which Brent Johnson did twice). In the past three regular seasons, Fleury has played in 199 of the 246 total Penguin games.
The Good: Second in the league in wins this season, Fleury has almost become the Grant Fuhr of his generation: a goalie behind a high-powered team that’s not asked to be perfect but is asked to make a big save or two to secure the win. Also, Fleury was the Pens this season- he started all 24 games against Atlantic Division opponents. In the regular season, Fleury was the 5th best goalie among regular goaltenders while his team was short-handed with a .906 save percentage (only Brian Elliott, Martin Brodeur, Jonathan Quick and Carey Price had better numbers). When it came to game-deciding shootouts, Fleury was tops in the league with 9 wins and his .769 sv% there was among league best as well.
The Bad: Fleury ranked just 27th league wide in save percentage, the most standard way to judge a goalie. So going by that, he was barely one starting caliber in a 30 team league. Then again, not all shots, chances and defensive systems are created equal, and the high-octane Penguins often left their netminder out to dry. Then, there’s the playoffs (more below, if you can stomach it). Fleury was hung out to dry and things really spiraled out of control, but his "performance" in Games 2 and 3 (giving up 13 goals in 5 periods) was among the worst of any goalie in modern NHL history. The Pens were scoring, almost at-will, on Ilya Bryzgalov (9 goals in the two games) but didn’t come close to winning either, thanks to their goalie.
Moment to Remember: March 9, 2012 vs the Florida Panthers. Coming off a game where Fleury stopped 36 of 37 and out-dueled Phoenix’s Mike Smith for a win, Fleury stopped 27 of 28 shots then prevented both shooters he saw in the shootout to help the Penguins to their 8th straight victory. It would end up being the last game the Pens would have to endure without Sidney Crosby, so this game (and the ones before it) really illustrate how the Pens depended on Fleury to be their bedrock.
Moment to Forget: The 2012 playoffs. Fleury didn’t get a lot of support from the guys in front of him, but he also gave up several deflating goals and let things slip away so quickly. The cracks started in OT of game 1 on Jakub Voracek’s game winner, Jordan Staal and Fleury both looked lackadaisical on the play. The real back-breaker was Game 2- the Flyers scored 7 goals on MAF and at least four of those goals could be considered soft goals that you would think a NHL caliber goalie would stop. Game 3 would be more of the same; Max Talbot (while the Flyers were short-handed) scored one of the most pathetic, weakest goals you’d ever see for Philly’s first goal. They’d score 5 more on Fleury in the next two periods before he was pulled at the second intermission. To be fair, Fleury was decent in Game 4 (though not really tested as the Pens jumped out to a huge lead en route to a 10-3 rout) and MAF was stellar in Game 5, making several excellent saves in a 3-2 Pittsburgh win. Then, 32 seconds into Game 6, Claude Giroux ripped an awesome against-the-grain wrister by Fleury and it was pretty much, mercifully, over.
Discussion: The Pens traded for Tomas Vokoun and that sends a very clear and real message: Fleury needs to be pushed, and the Pens can’t afford not to have another option in net in case of a meltdown. It’s difficult to think about now, due to the terrible post-season, but MAF was really solid in the regular season, so remember that when discussing how the goaltending role should be divvied up next season. Should Fleury be the #1? Would you just ride the hot goalie, whether it’s Fleury or Vokoun?