This rant is special for 2 reasons I suppose. The first reason is it is the very first blog written on my new lap top and the second is that it will be published once I achieve 5000 views, which is only 110 away as I start this post. Obviously I am starting it a day or so early to get a good head start on it.
I decided to focus on the forgotten man in the city of Pittsburgh. Lost in all the daily updates on Sidney Crosby’s current status, the return of Kristopher Letang from injury, the goal scoring exploits of James “The Real Deal” Neal, the way that Evgeni “Geno” Malkin has been stepped up his game to his current all world level, is one man who is just as important as Mr. Neal and Geno. Someone who has had a hand in the current win streak that the Penguins are one. That man is Marc-Andre Fleury.
The goalie known as “Flower” played his junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. During his 3 seasons in the QMJHL, he put up his best numbers for an individual season in 2001-2002. During this season he played in 55 games, totalling 26 wins, 14 losses and 8 overtime losses. He had a very stellar 2.78 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Those last two stats are extremely good in the QMJHL as it is known for the high scoring games it produces.
Fleury was selected to represent Canada at back to back World Junior Championships in 2003 and 2004. He will always be remembered for these two tournaments but for 2 very different reasons. The 2003 tournament was held in my home province of Halifax, Nova Scotia and Fleury shone on a world stage. During this tournament, he won a silver medal with Team Canada but also put up a 1.57 goals against average that won him the award for Tournament Top Goalie and Tournament MVP. He would go on to be selected 1st overall by The Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003.
The tournament in 2004 was not Flower’s best moment. He was with the Pittsburgh Penguins that season and the management of the team felt that the high profile tournament would be good for his development and lent him to Team Canada as he was still eligible to play. Fleury stated his desire to remain with the Penguins but did report to team Canada and led them back to the gold medal game for the second straight year. This year however, something happened that gave us a small preview of one of Fleury’s intangibles. With 5 minutes left in the gold medal game, the game tied 3 to 3, Fleury left his net to play a puck and ended up shooting the puck off of his defenseman. It rebounded past him and back into his own net. That goal gave the USA the gold medal.
After the disappointing Silver meddal, Fleury returned to the Penguins and seemed to suffer from being the youngest goalie in the league (18 years old,) a very poor defense in Pittsburgh that routinely gave up over 30+ shots a game and the weight of his own contract. The Penguins used his inconsistent play to send him back down to Cape Breton of the QMJHL. The real reason behind the demotion is that Flower was set to earn contract bonuses totalling $ 3,000,000.00 and the Penguins did not want to pay. Fleury even offered to waive the bonus money to stay in the NHL but the Penguins held fast to their decision.
The next season was suspended due to the labour dispute between the NHL and the NHLPA but Fleury was playing for the penguins AHL farm team, The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. He had a great season for the Baby Pens posting 26 wins, 19 losses, 4 overtime losses, a 2.52 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. he would spend the first part of the season being shuttled back and forth between the NHL and the AHL until sticking with the big club on November 28, 2005.
During the 2007-2008 season, Fleury changed from his all yellow goalie gear to white. This was done so he could try to gain an optical advantage over the shooters in the NHL. On TSN in Canada, there was a report that a University student in Pittsburgh presented the idea to Fleury that the yellow gear is actually giving the shooter a better idea where to shoot the puck as the yellow equipment would stand out against the white ice and boards.Ever since he changed the color of his equipment, he has been one of the leagues best goaltenders.
During the injury plagued 2010-2011 season, Flower posted a career season and should have been a Hart Trophy Finalist for Most valuable Player. The Pittsburgh Penguins had suffered injuries that totalled hundreds of games lost but the one constant in the season and leading them to their best team record ever was Fleury. He ended the season with 36 wins, 20 losses, 5 overtime loses, a 2.32 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Marc-Andre Fleury has joined Tom Barrasso as the best goalie to ever play for the Penguins and he is in the upper tier of goalies in the NHL. His career numbers are already better than Barrasso’s and he is only one cup behind. He is someone who loves to show his quirky personality and sense of humour and is someone that often gets lost in the discussion of besat goalie in the league.
Now I mentioned earlier about Flower displaying an intangible after the “own goal” in the gold medal game in 2004. What I meant by that is, Fleury has the outstanding ability to shake of disappointments and not have them affect him the next day and he has been doing this his entire career.
Looking back he had the loss to Russia in the gold medal game of the World Juniors after playing the tournament of his life, being loaned by the Penguins to Team Canada in 2004, the own goal in that tournament in the same tournament, the reassignment to the QMJHL due to the cash strapped Penguins not being able to afford to keep him due to performance bonuses, being shuttled back and forth the NHL and AHL constantly, playing behind a very young and inexperienced defense in his early years in the NHL, losing the Stanley Cup to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and who can forget the 5-0 loss in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.
Each time he has had to deal with some sense of drama or just poor play, he has shrugged it off and you would never know the next game that he plays as if nothing happened. His “off center” personality and his “aloof” sense of humour keeps him loose during the season and I think this is the one thing that a lot of goalies are missing. Roberto Luongo and Carey Price will see one bad start snowball into half a dozen bad starts, where as Fleury will usually bounce back in either a win or a loss in which he should have won.
I do think that a healthy Sidney Crosby and a motivated Evgeni Malkin are key to the Penguins having a successful season. If one of those two things happens, the Penguins still have a good season but of both don’t happen, it is a rougher ride for Pens Nation. However, I think that Marc-Andre Fleury is the key. His personality, talent and athleticism are a perfect fit for this team as it is at this time.
He may not always have the best stats every season in the NHL, but he reminds me so much of Grant Fuhr in Edmonton. They were the perfect goalies for the teams they were on. Fuhr’s stats were never great but he had the ability to make one huge save that could turn a game and a play off series around. It was reported on TSN here in Canada that one moment in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals caused Fuhr to send a text to Mario Lemieux. Why you ask? Here’s a report:
“Less than two minutes remained in a Game 6 the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to win to save their season … and one of the Detroit Red Wings’ most prolific scorers was breaking in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury.
It wasn’t the most pleasant sight for the young goaltender whose confidence could have been reasonably undermined from being pulled in the previous game.
Fleury had only an instant to decide whether his best chance at preserving a 2-1 lead would be to attempt a poke check or to wait out Dan Cleary’s move.
He opted for the latter, deflecting away the backhand shot and prompting Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr to text message a friend in Penguins owner Mario Lemieux’s box, saying, “That might be your Cup.”
And Fleury’s chance to prove he really is one of the game’s elites. “
The Penguins have something special with Fleury and Penguins fans realize that we do too.