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BRAVE (HART)

Analysis: Fleury's Season is Hart Worthy

Tuesday, 03.08.2011 / 1:42 AM / Features
By Sam Kasan
Marc-Andre Fleury has no doubt been one of the most dominant goaltenders during this NHL season. Fleury’s stellar play has made him a legitimate contender for the Vezina Trophy – awarded to the NHL’s best goalie.

But Fleury has been so much more to the Penguins this season.  And when it’s all said and done, you may see his name listed for another NHL Award – the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

“He’s been our most valuable player,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.

And looking around the league, he has been arguably more valuable to his team than any other player has been to their respective team.

The list of names for possible Hart candidates would include Boston’s Tim Thomas, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, either Sedin from Vancouver and possibly Jonathan Toews of Chicago.

Fleury has been equally (if not more) valuable to the Penguins than any of those players are to their squad.

“I’m biased, but if it were up to me I’d put him at the top of the list,” fellow netminder Brent Johnson said.  “Night in and night out he’s played consistently great. We’re in every game. He gives us a chance to win. With all the man games lost, he’s stepped up big time.”

Let’s consider Fleury’s credentials.

The Penguins currently have a 38-21-8 record for 84 points, second most in the Eastern Conference. The team has accomplished this feat despite having already suffered 258 man-games lost (prior to Tuesday’s game against Buffalo).

What’s more, the Penguins have played the majority of the season without three of the most talented NHL players. The best hockey player on the planet (Sidney Crosby, 26 games), a top-5 talent (Evgeni Malkin, 24) and a former Selke nominee (Jordan Staal, 39). Not to mention losing various key players like Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey.

Over the past two-plus months, Pittsburgh has stayed afloat with an injury list hovering around double digits and a roster full of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton callups. Yet somehow the Penguins still find themselves just two points shy of the No. 1 seed in the East.

And the Penguins have one man to thank for their success.

“I’ve talked for a long time now about his play over the past three, four months and what he’s meant to our team,” Bylsma said. “At this point in time, you’ve got a guy who is backstopping the team. … Now with the resiliency of our team, he’s been the mainstay back there with his play.”

“With all the injuries it’s tough to score goals,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “We have to keep it tight. He’s the key. He’s helped us get through that. Without him I don’t think we’d go anywhere.”

But Fleury’s MVP credentials stretch well beyond the past two months. His entire body of work must also be considered.

Fleury’s 29 wins place him one shy of hitting the 30-win mark for the third straight season and fourth time in his career.

After a rough start to the year, Fleury has pulled off a remarkable turnaround. His streak of excellence began Nov. 12 with a 15-save performance against Tampa Bay, helping the Penguins earn a 4-1 victory.

In the 43 games from that night, Fleury has surrendered two or fewer goals 28 times en route to posting a 28-10-5 record, 2.13 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. For some perspective, those numbers would rank in the Top 5 in both goaltending categories.

“It’s great to see him be that way for a long period of time,” Bylsma said. “This may be his longest overall stretch of consistent hockey. … He’s at a level of consistency that is unique to any goaltender. He’s been outstanding.”

“I get to watch him every night. There are no signs of him slowing down at all,” fellow netminder Brent Johnson said. “He just keeps going. He’s like a little Energizer Bunny. It’s unbelievable.”

And if he keeps it going, he may end up giving a speech on a stage in Las Vegas this summer.
 
 
 

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