Bales hired to work with Penguins' goaltenders

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The Penguins have a problem: Their goalie, a serviceable No. 1 in the regular season, has not performed so well lately in the playoffs.

Finding a remedy will be a top priority for Mike Bales, whom the Penguins announced Monday as their new goaltending coach.

Bales served as the organization's goaltender development coach the past two seasons, working with prospects and scouting amateurs. Now, he'll be judged on his ability to help former No. 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury.

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury's postseason numbers have taken a sharp downswing. His save percentage has been below .900 each of the past four postseasons. His playoff goals-against average last season was more than a goal worse than his regular-season clip and among the worst in the NHL.

Fleury started all six games in the 2012 playoff loss against Philadelphia, posting a 4.63 GAA that was nearly double his regular-season figure. Last season, he survived only four games against the New York Islanders before being pulled in favor of Tomas Vokoun.

His regular-season statistics, however have been fine. Fleury started 31 of the team's 48 games this past season and finished 17th in GAA (2.39) and 21st in save percentage (.916). His 23 wins were one off the league lead. Restricting the data to even-strength numbers, Fleury's .927 save percentage put him 14th among goalies with at least 15 starts (Vokoun, meanwhile, was third at .940).

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma affirmed this offseason that Fleury will be his starter come training camp. Team Canada officials, however, disagreed, leaving Fleury off their Olympic orientation camp roster this summer in favor of Corey Crawford (Chicago), Braden Holtby (Washington), Roberto Luongo (Vancouver), Carey Price (Montreal) and Mike Smith (Phoenix).

Whether Fleury's postseason issues are in his head -- he and the Penguins agreed he should see a sports psychologist this offseason -- or something more technical, Bales must right the ship. It often is not the team with the best goalie but the team with the hottest one who wins in the playoffs, and the Penguins will need Bales to get Fleury trending up instead of down when it matters most.

To Bales' credit, he has been recognized for working with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who led the AHL with a 1.93 GAA last year. Bales played 23 NHL games with Ottawa and Boston after a collegiate career at Ohio State and played professionally around the world from 1992-2010.

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Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica.


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