WASHINGTON -- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has received criticism, some quite harsh, from segments of the press and public for his play in the Penguins' second-round playoff series against Washington.
Some portray him as the primary reason the Penguins' season will end if they lose Game 7 to the Capitals at the Verizon Center tonight, while others suggest that, at the very least, he's why the Penguins haven't already clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference final.
Goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, however, believes Fleury's performance doesn't merit the flogging he has gotten.
"I don't think he's given up bad goals," Meloche said yesterday. "His concentration has been good. We reviewed the goals [from Game 6]. There was one goal where he might have had a chance, the first goal [on a rising wrist shot by Viktor Kozlov].
• Matchup: Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7:08 p.m. today, Verizon Center, Washington.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Series: Tied, 3-3.
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Simeon Varlamov for Capitals.
• Penguins: Are 3-3 on road by combined score of 20-20. ... Were only team with 2 short-handed goals allowed before last night. ... Mark Eaton led NHL defensemen with 4 goals through yesterday.
• Capitals: Are 4-3 at home with 19-16 goal advantage. ... C David Steckel has won 63.5 percent of his faceoffs. ... Going into last night, RW Alex Ovechkin led playoffs with plus-11 plus-minus.
• Hidden stat: Washington's Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley each have 2 short-handed points. Through yesterday, no one else had more than one.
"All the other goals, two of them, [teammates] bumped right into him and the power-play goal, I don't know why they gave it to [Alexander] Semin. The puck goes in off the crossbar and the post on the short side coming at a 90-degree angle, so it had to hit something (Capitals forward Brooks Laich) in front to get there"
Asked to assess his work, Fleury said, "there are more goals than I would like to go in," but added, "I watch tape with Gilles, and there are some bounces [the Capitals] get, some nice goals they get."
Fleury has a pretty basic philosophy about his mandate for Game 7 -- "If the goalie plays well, you always have a shot to win the game" -- and said, "you have to be positive and confident that you can do it and win that game."
There have been radically different perspectives on the knee-on-knee hit by Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin Friday that forced Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar to sit out Games 5 and 6.
Some observers saw it as a blatant attempt to injure, others as a perfectly clean check that had unfortunate, but unintended, consequences.
Perhaps the most intriguing take on Ovechkin's check still hasn't been aired publicly.
"I have my own opinion," Gonchar said. "I'm not going to comment on that."
The Penguins have outshot Washington in each of the first six games and have a 226-159 edge for the series.
They have made a point of throwing the puck at Simeon Varlamov, Washington's rookie goalie, as much as possible. And while it doesn't do much for their shooting percentage, coach Dan Bylsma is convinced it is a sound tactic.
"I don't think any coach's game plan is to minimize their shots on net, to [only] shoot when they think they're going to score," he said.
"We going to go out and try to get 40-plus shots again and try to get upward of 20 scoring chances. Dictate the game that way and, if we can, we're confident we're going to get a good result."
Winger Ruslan Fedotenko has three goals in this series and having Evgeni Malkin for a center likely has something to do with that.
Fedotenko, though, suggested that the key for him was the addition of Max Talbot to his line, a move made when Petr Sykora was taken out of the lineup for ineffective play.
"With him on the line, it maybe helps me to do more offensively and play my game, rather than being the third guy high and making sure we don't get scored on," Fedotenko said.
Talbot's versatility is one of his major assets. He likely doesn't have the skill to be a full-time top-six forward on a good team, but is more than capable of filling in there for a short time.
Bylsma believes that Talbot's ability to fill different niches effectively is a matter of professional survival.
"When you work and battle in your career to advance, you learn to adapt to different roles," he said. "Max has the ability to stay focused on what his role is at any given time. That's a huge attribute to have."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .