Win it for Flower.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins next opponent blitzes the Penguins zone, rattles the Penguins vulnerable defense and fires a slew of high danger shots, the Penguins best hope in goal to survive that storm is Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury reads plays, is more able to move laterally as opponents move the puck across the scoring zone, and does not have a glaring weakness.
The choice is–which goalie is more able to survive abandonment in the defensive zone? Yep, Fleury.
The Penguins defense is now average. Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley are the Penguins top pairing. Take a moment to reread that. In Games 1 and 2, Fleury received the Penguins best 5-man defensive effort. The results were inarguable, as the Penguins allowed only one goal in each game.
In Game 3, the Penguins struggled to find their footing, but Fleury refused to buckle. The “Flower” made several big saves on Nick Foligno, Brandon Saad and Cam Atkinson to calm the Blue Jackets surge.
In video comments released today by the Penguins, head coach Mike Sullivan said, “at times (Fleury) was our best player.”
The 2016 Penguins fed off Matt Murray’s unflappable attitude. Like a brick wall, Murray blocked the net as the Penguins blocked shots and hogged the puck. Murray both led and was the beneficiary of the Penguins dominant puck control.
Meanwhile, Fleury’s teammates felt heartbroken for their friend and beloved teammate. His teammates hurt watching Fleury rot on the bench as their success, playoff wins, piled up. Fleury waited for the call to reclaim the net which had been undisputably his since 2008, but he received only one fleeting chance, Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Final.
Last summer, Fleury admitted he planned to skip the on-ice celebration, but changed his mind. Fans may remember his embarrassed look as he was handed the Stanley Cup and quickly passed it.
Things are different in 2017. The Penguins are not the same team. Murray isn’t the same goalie.
The Capitals are Coming, Probably
As the Penguins lead the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0, we can peek ahead to what presumably awaits in the second round: The President’s Trophy winning, Metro Division winning angry bull known as the Washington Capitals. (Yes, I’m also watching the Capitals-Leafs series with great interest, but until Toronto wins four, it’s the Capitals series to lose.)
With a 1.86 goal against average and .945 save percentage, Fleury has met and exceeded expectations in this series. As a team, the Penguins have taken care of loose pucks and the occasional juicy rebound. Just as they did for Murray, one year ago. And Fleury has made big saves in each game, without allowing soft goals.
Since March 1, Fleury has been the Penguins better goalie. In the final six weeks of the regular season, Fleury had a .923 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average despite backstopping a couple team-wide clunkers against Chicago and Toronto.
The Penguins have again shown their Stanley Cup puck dominance. However, the Capitals are coming.
Which goalie will be able to hold the fort when the defense is overwhelmed by one of the many Capitals surges? The Capitals boast the most intense offensive attack in the NHL. For stretches, their exerted pressure can be overwhelming. (The Penguins biggest key to beating the Capitals in 2016 was the ability to withstand the assault, or nullify it.)
The Penguins need an edge against that attack. And a rallying point never hurt, either. “Win it for Flower”.
Fleury is too gentle to publicly admit it, but he does indeed carry a chip on his shoulder from feeling excluded in the Stanley Cup run.
The Penguins would be wise to use that motivation harbored deep inside Fleury. Use his teammate’s desire to hand Fleury a Stanley Cup under better personal circumstances. To say thank you. And, to say goodbye in the best way athletes know how.
In addition to having a bona-fide number one goalie, the Penguins have potential advantages with Fleury: Emotional bonds and spectacular performance. Fleury will likely wear another sweater next year. Everyone knows it. Fleury has earned the chance–It’s time to see if the players can write the storybook ending and let Fleury ride off into the sunset with a toothy smile and a Stanley Cup.
It’s time to “Win It for Flower”.