Stats aside, Penguins goalie will be judged on his postseason


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Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t one of those guys who is obsessed with numbers, or can recite his personal stats line at the slightest provocation.

Or without any provocation at all, for that matter.

Still, he presumably is aware enough of them to realize they provide compelling evidence of how strong his season has been. Just as he clearly grasps that anything he achieves over the regular season ultimately will be viewed in the context of what the Penguins accomplish in the playoffs, and how much he contributes to that.

“I think I had a good season last year,” Fleury said, “but nobody remembers that, right?”

No doubt some people do, but they — and he — understand how losing his place as the go-to goalie four games into an opening-round playoff series against the New York Islanders overshadowed everything he had achieved the previous 48 games.

Overshadowed?

More like obliterated.

And so it is that the success of Fleury’s 2013-14 season, like that of his coaching staff and teammates, will be judged not by what was done between early October and mid-April, but by what happens in the weeks (or months) that follow.

If Fleury can help the Penguins win a Stanley Cup, his regular-season feats simply will add to the luster.

If he again sputters in the playoffs, nothing from the first 82 games will matter. Or, most likely, persuade management to continue giving him a prominent place in its plans, let alone a contract to complement the one that will expire in 2015.

But, before Fleury can seek playoff redemption, he must complete a regular season that has the potential to go down as his finest of 10 at this level.

He leads the NHL with 31 victories, two more than Antti Niemi of San Jose, and has a legitimate shot at establishing personal-bests in every major statistical category.

“We’ve obviously won a lot of hockey games so far this year,” goaltending coach Mike Bales said, “and Marc’s been a huge part of that.”

Fleury’s numbers — and the Penguins’ 40-15-3 record — are irrefutable evidence of the quality of his play through the first 58 games and his contribution to the team’s success.

For while center Sidney Crosby is the frontrunner to win his second NHL scoring title and Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, he isn’t the only reason the Penguins have a five-point lead in the Eastern Conference.

“Marc’s been probably our most consistent player all year,” Bales said.

Fleury’s goals-against average of 2.23, if it holds, would go down as his lowest in the league; that distinction currently belongs to the 2.32 he put up in 2009-10.

His save percentage of .919 is surpassed only by his .921 from 2007-08 and his four shutouts are one shy of his career-high five in 2006-07.

“He has some excellent numbers, but sometimes numbers don’t always tell the whole story,” Bales said. “I just like the way he’s been doing it.”

Bales succeeded Gilles Meloche as the goaltending coach this season and has been responsible for several tweaks to Fleury’s game. They include everything from, in Fleury’s words, “trying to stay more patient on my feet, before I go down, trying to read the shot a little more” to how he plays on and off the goalpost in various situations.

“I’ll look at something and tell him, ‘Hey, maybe this is how I think you should play something,’” Bales said. “Then, we’ll try it in practice and, if he likes it, he’ll make the adjustment. If not, he won’t.”

So far, the results are encouraging, which Bales suggested is underscored by a stat that’s a bit more obscure than most.

“He’s been pulled once this year in all of his starts, and that’s pretty amazing for a goaltender, to start that many games and only be pulled once,” he said.

“It shows how consistent he’s been, and that’s all you can ask from your goaltender, to be calm, composed and consistent. Go out there and stop the ones you should and stop a few of the ones you shouldn’t.”

And then keep doing it when the games matter most.

NOTES — Assistant coach Todd Reirden said preliminary indications are that at least some of the Penguins’ seven Olympians will participate in practice Wednesday. … The Penguins recalled forward Brian Gibbons and defensemen Simon Despres from their AHL team in Wilkes-Barre.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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