The title of this post really says it all. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be one of the best, brightest, and most productive goaltenders in the NHL, and people continue to hate on him. Fleury, who will turn 27 next month, is in the prime of his career, has won a Stanley Cup, two Eastern Conference titles, and has made an All-Star team in his first 7 years in the NHL.
Fleury was the number one overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft and has lived up to all of his lofty expectations.
The first two years of Fleury's professional career were not great by any means. Fleury was 17-41-8 as a starter for some very bad Pittsburgh Penguins' teams.
Since then all Fleury has done is win, win, win, win, and win some more.
40 wins in 2006-2007
35 wins in 2008-2009
37 wins in 2009-2010
36 wins in 2010-2011
In all of those seasons Fleury's goals against average, which is not a great stat to judge goaltenders on has gotten better each year.
2.83 in 2006-2007
2.67 in 2008-2009
2.65 in 2009-2010
2.32 in 2010-2011
Fleury, now in his eighth season is off to a fantastic start to a season, something he usually doesn't do. Fleury is 6-2 with G.AA of 1.88 and a save % of .937. That is incredible for a guy who faces a ton of shots and scoring chances.
Fleury has been blessed with some great teams in front of him, and some even better players. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal to name a few. Fleury has been blessed with a very good offensive team in front of him, but the Pens also give up a ton of quality scoring chances.
Also, think about how the Pens won the Stanley Cup in 2008-2009. Fleury gave up 3 goals in the final two games. Everyone calls Max Talbot the hero of Game 7. That is false. The real hero was Fleury. The Red Wings virtually had the puck for the last ten minutes of the game and Fleury made big save after big save. He even made a big save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the games final seconds.
Fleury is a gamer. He has already won a Stanley Cup and has taken his team to back to back Stanley Cup Finals. Now he is becoming the best net-minder in the NHL.
Fleury carried the Pens to the playoffs last year without the presence of Crosby and/or Malkin in the lineup. Fleury should have been a Vezina finalist. With his hot start this year, I expect Fleury to not only be a finalist, but possibly even win it. I know it is extremely early but Fleury should have the numbers and might near 50 wins.
The haters will say that he gives up soft goals and that he has a good team in front of him. Yet Roerto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks is considered an "elite" goalie. Why is that? Have you ever seen Luongo play? He is soft as pudding. Luongo is a bad game away from getting ran out of Vancouver. The recent teams in front of Luongo have been All-Star teams for the most part. Ryan Keslar, the Sedin twins, with a great blue-line and supporting cast.
Call me a homer but Fleury leads the Canucks to a cup victory. Fleury has "it". I see a lot of correlations between Fleury and Steelers' qb Ben Roethlisberger in terms of talent, production, accomplishments, and criticism.
Perhaps Fleury will never be fully appreciated in Pittsburgh. Hockey is not an easy sport for the casual fan to understand. Every goal that goes in will be Fleury's fault. Every loss will be Fleury's fault. Not to mention the fact that Crosby plays on the same team.
Fleury is only 26 years old. His first seven seasons are comparable to almost any goaltender ever. Martin Brodeur didn't win his first Vezina until he was 29. Jacques Plante didn't win his first Vezina until he was 27. That is how old Fleury would be if he won it this year.
Imagine if Fleury does win it this year, then imagine if he wins another Stanley Cup this year. Very quietly, Fleury is on his way to building a Hall of Fame worthy career.
On top of that right now I can't even think of another goalie to have in net with the game on the line or with one game to win. Fleury has done it, he is only getting better, and he is in the prime of his career.
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