Starkey: Pens goalie Fleury’s star has fallen
Deserved or not, the indignities keep flying at Marc-Andre Fleury.
First, his team shunned him. Now, his country.
Could the entire world be next?
“The Olympic thing, I’m not going to make too much of,” said Penguins general manager Ray Shero, busy with Team USA and not inclined to opine on Team Canada, which invited five goalies not named Fleury to its tryout camp. “But if he takes something personal, good for him.”
Good for him, indeed. Maybe it’s time Fleury got ticked off. It’s time for him to take more ownership of his career and reclaim his lost reputation as a big-game goalie.
The Penguins are making the right move in retaining Fleury, for these reasons:
• He’s still young (28) and highly productive in the regular season. This isn’t exactly the golden age of goalies, you know. After Henrik Lundqvist, who has yet to play for a Cup, there aren’t many goalies sporting lengthy resumes that scream, “franchise player!” At least you can pencil in Fleury for 35-plus wins.
• A yet-to-be-named goalie coach will provide Fleury a new voice.
• The Penguins and Fleury mutually agreed to address his mental approach via a sports psychologist. Shero had previously asked Fleury to meet with one. It’s finally happening this summer.
Good for the Penguins. Good for Fleury. These kinds of relationships happen across society, so of course they happen in sports. They’re healthy. Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton benefited from such a relationship. So did Penguins winger Matt Cooke.
Fleury doesn’t have physical issues. His playoff failures would appear to be more in his head.
“The playoffs are the question mark he’s had the past four years,” Shero said. “I think it’s probably something on his mind.”
Shero expanded on the idea of talking things out with a professional.
“Goalie is a delicate position, no different than a golfer or a tennis player: You’re on your own a lot,” Shero said. “I think it’s a good step for him, which he’s really taken seriously since our year-end meeting. It’s kind of like the situation with Matt Cooke in that you can’t just hope you’re going to come back and things are going to be different.
“A lot of guys talk to somebody. It’s a confidence thing.”
Bouncing back has been a theme in Fleury’s career, but he’s never been body-slammed like this. It’s hard to find anybody who considers him elite anymore.
The Penguins last summer smartly signed Tomas Vokoun, who posted a better regular-season save percentage and two more shutouts than Fleury, then outperformed him in the playoffs.
Any illusion that people outside of Pittsburgh still view Fleury as elite was shattered Monday when he was left off Team Canada’s Olympic tryout list in favor of five others, including Braden Holtby.
Yeah, Braden Holtby.
Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman and coach Mike Babcock were working for the Red Wings when Fleury beat them. If anyone, they should know firsthand what Fleury is capable of. They undoubtedly have noticed Fleury’s past four postseason save percentages were under .900.
Fleury must look at Team Canada’s roster and shake his head. It has to be sobering. Aside from Cup winner Corey Crawford, it’s an awfully suspect group — and even Crawford has a poor playoff on his recent resume.
The other four:
• Roberto Luongo won the gold medal three years ago — better said, he didn’t lose the gold medal — but has fallen on hard times. His .907 save percentage this season tied for 28th, which would be wonderful if the NHL weren’t a 30-team league.
• Mike Smith is 31 and has played only 19 playoff games. Fleury played 24 in ’09 alone. Smith is coming off a year in which he tied for 22nd in save percentage.
• Carey Price hasn’t won a playoff series since 2008. As his former coach, Rollie Melanson, said in a published report: “Carey hasn’t stopped deteriorating since I left. He’s all over the place.”
• Holtby is 23 and without much of a track record. When last seen, he was getting lit up like a pinball machine by the punchless Rangers in Game 7.
If all of this, combined with watching his team lose a series from the bench for the second time in four years, isn’t sufficient motivation for Fleury, nothing will be. He has stayed out of the spotlight this offseason, declining media requests. His agent, Allan Walsh, declined comment for this column.
That’s OK because there’s really nothing left to say on Fleury’s end. It’s time to get his mind right and prove the hockey world wrong.
It’s time to reclaim his reputation.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at [email protected].