New Castle News

April 16, 2012

NHL Playoffs: Fleury the weak link for struggling Penguins

By Staff
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — While his teammates were coughing up jargon, explaining why their goaltender is still a better alternative against the Flyers than a cardboard cutout in his likeness, Marc-Andre Fleury idled for a few moments, alone in a corner.

There he was, seated at the entrance to Pittsburgh’s dressing room. Fleury pulled on a baseball cap, tugged on the brim to affix it at eye level, then prepared to answer questions regarding his porous play in the crease.

Fleury’s outings largely are to blame for why the Flyers, who ran him onto the bench after six goals in two periods Sunday, thrashed the Penguins, 8-4, and staked a 3-0 lead against their in-state rivals in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Still, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma — who plugged Brent Johnson into the net for the final period of Game 3 — said he’s going with Fleury Wednesday for Game 4, even though Fleury’s been torched for 17 goals in this series.

So, Fleury, what do these Flyers do that frustrates you the most?

“Score goals,” Fleury said.

A prophet, he is not. But the Penguins goalie is a past Stanley Cup winner. He was their team MVP this season, when he established franchise records for wins and games played. And for 82 games, he was the Penguins’ rock.

But in three this postseason, he’s been as soft as the pretzels they serve at Wells Fargo Center.

Try these numbers on for size: Fleury owns a 6.33 goals-against average in this series, to go along with a .797 saves percentage. Unsightly is a word that comes to the mind of outsiders. For Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal, Fleury is blameless.

“We haven’t played well in front of Flower all three games, so I can’t really comment on how Flower’s playing,” Staal said of his goaltender. “We’ve been playing terrible. I feel bad for Flower. He’s a goaltender that has a lot of character. He’s a player that’s going to win some big games for us.

“I don’t know how many backdoor tap-ins they had today. (It’s) a not-so-good defensive effort in front of him. To give up those opportunities is costly. I could see maybe one or two a game, but to give up seven or eight of those chances, they’re going to find a way to score goals.”

Maybe Staal’s onto something, with the Penguins permitting a few too many 3-on-2 breaks in a first period during which the Flyers took a 3-1 lead.

Danny Briere’s goal, with eight minutes gone in the opening period, came off a beautiful cross-crease pass from Scott Hartnell. Fleury had no chance against Briere, who had enough space in the left side of the net to squeeze a fan or two between the pipes.

“That first one was stupid,” Fleury said.

Three minutes later, on a nearly identical look, Briere scored his fourth goal of this series, generated by a crisp pass from Wayne Simmonds. Again, Fleury looked fettered to the right side of the net and couldn’t shuffle into position in time.

“They had some good scoring chances, but I have to make some key saves,” Fleury said. “It’s been costly.”

Perhaps Fleury meant to say, “I’ve been costly.”

This game featured 149 penalty minutes, which demonstrated the level of hostility these teams have reserved for one another. Tempers flared, goals were scored and, at one point, it could have gone the Penguins’ way. After all, they again were the team to strike first, behind Staal’s first-period tally.

Identifying what went wrong, according to Bylsma, does not start with pointing a finger at Fleury.

“I’ve not talked to him,” Bylsma said, “but Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in our net in Game 4.

“Games have not come down to Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending. It’s the mistakes we’ve made and the situations we’ve put our team in. I know Marc-Andre is going to be the guy in our net for the next four games.”

That’s if this series goes beyond Wednesday night.