Crosby, Bylsma agree to disagree on Fleury
Sidney Crosby believes Marc-Andre Fleury needs to play.
Coach Dan Bylsma strongly hinted otherwise Monday. He indicated Brent Johnson will start for the Penguins at home Wednesday night — adding that Fleury, the club’s struggling franchise goalie, “doesn’t have (confidence) right now.”
Crosby’s assessment differs. He thinks Fleury needs to play his way out of a funk.
“He’s going to have good games. It’s not like he can change overnight. He’s going to put strings of games together, and he can’t do that with one game. So, you’ve got to be patient, too, and let him get back there,” he said after a practice at Southpointe Iceoplex.
“With a goalie, you’ve got to give him time. He’s got to play four or five games maybe to prove that, but to sit here and question his psyche doesn’t really give him a chance.”
Since becoming the youngest captain in NHL history three years ago, Crosby has crafted a reputation for walking the company line. His support of Fleury — off to a dreadful start and pulled early from a win Saturday night at Phoenix — is an indication of his maturing leadership qualities.
Certainly, yesterday marked his first expressed difference of opinion with a coach.
Maybe he was just having the back of a long-time friend whose famous smiles have been few and far between this season.
Fleury, who declined comment, is not playing up to the standard of a goalie who garnered a big-game reputation during consecutive runs to the Cup Final in 2008 and 2009. In contrast, Johnson, a respected veteran backup, has played to a Vezina Trophy level.
He was fourth in goals-against average (1.63) and save percentage (.943) — though he missed practice because of illness.
Johnson has won the confidence of Bylsma and teammates, many of whom believe the Penguins (7-7-1, 15 points) cannot afford to give away early-season points while Fleury works through his struggles.
“Some of it will have to be who gets it going right now and can play a good game for us, and still keeping in mind that we want to get an appropriate amount of work for Marc to get into his rhythm and get to his game,” Bylsma said of the goaltending situation.
He added there is “not a formula” for how to handle this situation — though last season the Boston Bruins ultimately replaced a veteran reigning Vezina winner Tim Thomas with rookie Tuukka Rask after Thomas never regained his former dominance following early struggles.
Thomas is again the Bruins’ starter and was the leader in goals-against average and save percentage as of yesterday.
The frustration for Bylsma stems from having witnessed Fleury at his best: a 16-8 run with a 2.61 goals-against average and .908 save percentage during the 2009 playoffs.
He has allowed a first- or second-shot goal in eight of 21 starts dating to last postseason.
That trend, Fleury’s penchant for surrendering untimely goals and Bylsma’s recent allusions to unsatisfactory practice habits and focus has combined to spark debate among fans on the message-board and talk-show circuits that Fleury lacks the proper mental toughness.
Crosby denounced that speculation.
“You can analyze it all you want. Honestly, you can. He’s mentally tough — to be a goalie at this level you have to be. He wouldn’t have got this far if he wasn’t mentally tough,” he said.
“As a group we need to put some wins together, and Flower’s a part of that. He’s going to put some together and we’re going to be OK. You’ve got to be patient. You can’t gain all this ground with playing the next game. It’s going to be time and getting game after game. I don’t think we have any worries.”
Not about the captain, anyway.
ONE YEAR LATER
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was to last season what backup Brent Johnson is to this season: an early Vezina Trophy candidate. He has fallen flat since.
LAST SEASON’S START: 10-2-0, 1.99 GAA, .916 SV%
LAST SEASON’S FINISH: 27-19-7, 2.83 GAA, .903 SV%
2010 PLAYOFFS: 7-6, 2.78 GAA, .891 SV%
THIS SEASON: 1-6-0, 3.55 GAA, .853 SV%