Crosby, Bylsma agree to disagree on Fleury
Crosby, Bylsma agree to disagree on Fleury
By Rob Rossi, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
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.
Re: Crosby, Bylsma agree to disagree on Fleury
Starkey: The Fleury dilemma
By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, November 11, 2010
First, an undeniable truth: Marc-Andre Fleury has regressed under Dan Bylsma, who is 16 games into his second full season as coach.
That does not mean Bylsma is liable for the diminishing returns of a franchise cornerstone, one who has four years and $20 million remaining on his contract after this season. The player always is most responsible for his performance.
But the coach hasn't helped.
Let's be honest: This team is not likely to win another Stanley Cup without Fleury at his best, and it's been a while since we've seen him perform at a consistently high level. Somehow, some way, that needs to happen.
The Penguins changed Fleury's practice and pre-game routines this season, to no avail. Bylsma has called out Fleury, in so many words, after certain games. Didn't work. Bylsma rewarded Fleury by giving him a surprise start Saturday in Phoenix, then ripped him out of the game after Fleury allowed two goals in 6 minutes, 56 seconds. Last season, Fleury was pulled a league-high eight times.
That's no way to handle a franchise goaltender with a Stanley Cup on his resume.
Bylsma believes he made the right move Saturday, because the Penguins came back and won. Most observers likely would agree, but how can anybody say Fleury wouldn't have won the game?
Fleury was sitting at his locker after the morning skate Wednesday, already knowing Brent Johnson would be making his eighth start of the season -- a start that would turn disastrous in the third period of a 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins.
Fleury has endured his share of trials during his six-year career. He labels his rocky start this season altogether different.
"I would say it's the toughest time I've had, for sure," he said.
Fleury's numbers are astonishing. His goals-against average (3.54) ranks 37th in a 30-team league. His save percentage (.853) ranks 40th. His record is 1-6. Johnson, in sharp contrast, went into last night's game ranked fourth in goals-against average and save percentage and was 6-1-1.
Thankfully, Fleury has retained his sense of humor. I asked why he continued to wear his mask on the bench after he was pulled in Phoenix.
Did he think he was going back in?
"Not really, I just didn't have my (baseball) hat close by, so I kept my helmet on," he said. "And I didn't want anybody to read my lips."
Read my lips: Fleury is at his best when his team is playing structured defensive hockey, and over the past year, the Penguins too often have not.
That looked like a structure-less team last night, all right, as players freelanced their way to squandering a 4-2 lead after two periods. They went for the blowout instead of taking pains to secure the victory.
Bylsma's dilemma is a doozy. It's hard to blame him for going with Johnson, but he surely could have handled the Fleury situation better. And at some point, Fleury figures to need a stretch of games to find his rhythm.
Bylsma insists that will happen. The time is ripe, given that Johnson has surrendered 11 goals in his past two starts.
I asked defenseman Brooks Orpik the other day if he liked the prospect of giving Fleury a run of games, an idea team captain Sidney Crosby seemed to endorse earlier this week.
"Well, I'm sure everybody has their own opinion in here, and it doesn't really matter, 'cause there's one guy who's going to decide whether or not (Fleury) is playing," Orpik said. "I don't know if there's a right or wrong answer, to be honest. Maybe you throw him in there and he gets his confidence back by playing that much. The flipside of it: What if you put him put back in there and he continues to struggle and we miss the playoffs by two points? Then you kind of sit here and kick yourself and say, 'Maybe we should have let him work through it in practice earlier on.' "
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas can relate to Fleury. He was the reigning Vezina Trophy winner last season but got hurt and lost his job. Thomas knows that confidence is a fragile thing and that working on one's game in practice can be a hard way to restore it.
"Sometimes you need to work on technique, and if you do that, you're going to have practices where you're getting scored on a lot," Thomas said. "Sometimes you need to say 'Screw it, I'm going to do everything I can to stop (the puck).' There are different answers for different people."
There is only one adequate answer to the Penguins' goaltending dilemma: Get Fleury right or go home early again next spring.
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