With their methodical 3 – 0 victory over the New York Islanders last night at the Nassau County Colosseum, the Penguins now find themselves with a 7-2-2 record after 11 games, a pace, if kept up, that would see them record 119 points and surely the top overall seed going into the playoffs. Now none of us expects them to continue at this lofty level for an entire season, but when compared to where they were after 11 games last year (5-5-1), it sure is a lot more fun. What’s interesting when you compare the two seasons is to see what players the Penguins had available last season versus who has been available this year.
Through the first 11 games last season, the Penguins had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for all 11, and Brooks Orpik for five of the first 11 although they did not have Jordan Staal for any of them. Through the first 11 games of the current season, the Penguins did not have Sidney Crosby for any of them, Evgeni Malkin only played in four, Brooks Orpik also in four, and they did have Jordan Staal for all eleven although Kris Letang missed two due to a questionable suspension.
During the first 11 games of the previous season, the Penguins scored 32 goals or just under three per game. Surprisingly, they have also scored 32 goals during the first eleven games of the current campaign. Here’s where the difference seems to be:In those first 11 games of the 2010/2011 season, the Penguins gave up 28 goals, and this year, they have only given up 21, and since they have played with basically the same seven defensemen this year as they did last year, I can only find one reason for the dramatic decrease in goals allowed.
At this point last year, many Penguins fans as well as members of the media were ready to run Marc-Andre Fleury out of town. He had a horrible 1 – 5 record and had given up 21 goals in six games compared to the seven goals that Brent Johnson gave up in the five games that he played in. Fleury looked horrible in net, seemed totally out of synch, was misjudging angles and was giving up hideous rebounds. Yes, we do all remember how Fleury eventually found himself, got his head back together, ended up finishing the season with 36 wins and a very impressive 2.32 Goals Against Average, and if it were not for Tim Thomas having the season of his life, probably could have won the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league, but many people were still skeptical as to whether he could continue this outstanding play, or whether after another off season he might revert back to the Fleury of ’10/’11.
Well folks, you can put those fears to rest. Whatever it was that Marc-Andre figured out during his darkest days of the previous season, you can rest assured that he does not seem to want to forget it and revert back to his “old” ways. Fleury has been amazingly rock steady for the Penguins so far this year posting a 6 – 2 record in his eight starts while lowering his GAA to an astonishing 1.87 and upping his Save Percentage from last year’s .918 to a lofty .937.
He seems unbelievably confident in goal showing signs of maturity one might not yet expect from someone who has yet to reach his 27th birthday. He is no longer giving up those terrible rebounds that were many times his downfall, he is squaring up to shooters, cutting down angles, and most importantly, not venturing out of the goal to play pucks which he has come to learn is not his strongest suit. His improved play has given a new found confidence to his team mates that even when they’re not having their best game or period that he will keep them in the game, and they will not lose it because of him.
It really is amazing that only one year ago, there were many in this town who really thought that the Penguins had made a mistake in giving the long term extension to Fleury and that maybe he had peaked with their win in the Stanl