Despite different personas, goalies Fleury, Barrasso share similar success
For a franchise long enamored with offense, the Penguins boast two goaltenders who could go down among the best in NHL history.
One kept to himself, stuck to one restaurant — Morton’s the Steakhouse — and was uninterested in what the outside world said about anything he did on the ice.
The other laughs often, would talk to a wall if it talked back and dressed in a banana suit this past summer to dump a bucket of ice water over his head with his wife and daughter.
Tom Barrasso and Marc-Andre Fleury are opposites in just about every imaginable way, except for the fact they share a stranglehold on Penguins goaltending records.
With 298 career victories, Fleury, 29, could get No. 300 this week. He would become just the fourth NHL goalie to get that many before his 30th birthday. In Raleigh, N.C., where he once was a neighbor of current Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, Barrasso may or may not be watching.
Barrasso, however, can likely identify with how Fleury has obtained each win: by taking the ice with more celebrated players considered the world’s best scorers during their careers.
“I enjoyed playing behind the team I had in front of me,” Barrasso told the Tribune-Review. “You just had to accept the fact that, certainly back in my era, your stats were not going to be very good most of the time because of the type of hockey that we played.
“But I think it’s what suited the players that we had. I also think it was a really fun way to play the game. I wouldn’t have changed that.
“I would imagine (Fleury) enjoys playing behind the skill that he has in front of him.”
Barrasso won 226 games with the Penguins between 1988-2000, including the Stanley Cup in 1991 and ’92. With 369 career victories, he’s one of 30 goalies in NHL history to eclipse 300 wins.
Until Fleury, who will become No. 31, Barrasso unquestionably was the franchise’s best goaltender, the sole one with Hall of Fame credentials.
Even if many would agree, Barrasso wasn’t much for the spotlight that came with such accomplishments.
“I didn’t read any newspapers,” Barrasso said. “I didn’t pay attention to anything. … For me, that was the best way to do it.”
Fleury, though, paid attention to Barrasso. A lot.
“Growing up, I looked up to him,” Fleury said. “The Penguins had those great teams. He was a big part. People didn’t talk about him enough. There were so many great offensive guys, right? (Mario) Lemieux, (Jaromir) Jagr. … Somebody had to stop the pucks.”
Barrasso admits he doesn’t keep track of Fleury’s win total or follow his game-to-game results. But he was impressed by the Penguins’ new alternate uniforms, the ones that pay tribute to the era in which Barrasso played.
That includes the mask Fleury had designed specifically to resemble the one Barrasso wore.
“One of my daughters actually emailed me a link with a picture of the mask before the game,” said Barrasso, who served on the Hurricanes coaching staff from 2007-12 while Rutherford was GM. “I thought that was really pretty cool. When I watched the game on television, it really was a throwback to see those jerseys back on the ice again.”
Fleury, who’s from Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, insisted on keeping the American flag Barrasso, a Boston native, had painted on his mask. The front and sides are the same, too.
“Maybe that’s weird for a French goalie, but that’s how he wore it,” Fleury said. “I wanted the mask to be just like he wore it. Kind of a tribute, like we’re part of the same team even though we didn’t play together.”
When Fleury recently signed a four-year, $23 million contract extension, it brought about new criticism of the Penguins netminder.
Because of his playoff struggles — some real, some perceived — Fleury has been a polarizing figure, something Barrasso knows a thing or two about.
“There are obviously levels of scrutiny, but you don’t play the game for the accolades of it. You play the game because you enjoy doing it and you enjoy being with your teammates,” Barrasso said. “I think that’s the only way to be successful.
“I would imagine he enjoys his teammates. I’m sure he enjoys playing behind them, and I’m sure he enjoys winning games — regardless of how it happens.”
That is precisely what makes Barrasso and Fleury special, franchise legend Eddie Johnston said.
They win. A lot.
“The other stats are important, but they don’t always mean you win,” said Johnston, a former NHL goaltender who served as coach, general manager, assistant GM and senior advisor for the Penguins. “Tommy won. Fleury wins.”
‘The goalies get lost’
Barrasso and Fleury never have spoken.
Fleury would like to have that conversation, though Barrasso doesn’t “know an event or a time that would occur that would bring that to be.”
Barrasso, currently out of hockey, said he has no desire to reconnect with his Pittsburgh roots unless there’s a job involved.
Fleury, meanwhile, wouldn’t mind picking Barrasso’s brain about what it was like playing on those offensively stacked, but sometimes defensively indifferent, teams.
“If we could talk, I’d want the first question,” Fleury said. “I’d ask him, ‘How were things back then?’ I’d just like to know what it was like to play goalie for those teams. I think we could talk about that — what it’s like to play goalie for offensive teams.”
Johnston, who has spent about a dozen years with each Barrasso and Fleury, admits they’re plenty different in how they go about their business.
One was intense and occasionally would verbalize his frustrations. The other performs jumping jacks before facing teammates’ shootout attempts in practice.
“Tommy would chew out a teammate,” Johnston said. “I don’t hear about Fleury doing that, but that’s not his personality.”
Barrasso played the puck “like a forward,” Johnston said. So smooth. Fleury? “He’s not a guy you want playing the puck that much,” Johnston said.
The two are united, Johnston said, by the fact outsiders tend to look first at the franchise’s 15 scoring titles instead of its two generational netminders.
“I doubt goalies get their due in Pittsburgh,” Johnston said. “We’ve had the best stars, the best offensive players, for 30 years. The goalies get lost.”
Not lost on Barrasso is a healthy respect for Fleury’s accomplishments: a Stanley Cup, 31 career shutouts and 52 postseason wins, second in Penguins history only to Barrasso’s 56.
“I look at all goaltenders by their resume,” Barrasso said. “That’s all you can really do. What do you accomplish? What can you write down that you’ve accomplished? I think he’s got a pretty good resume. I think he has a resume that a lot of guys would want.
“It’s not for me to get into the argument of whether he’s world-class or any of these labels you want to affix. But I think if you write down his accomplishments compared to his peers, I would say his stack up pretty well.”