I know I said Martin Brodeur was up next, but since the Pens have gone on an absolute tear lately and seemingly cemented themselves in the top-4, I decided to do the scouting report for Marc-Andre Fleury instead. You guys know the drill by now, I will examine General Style, Strengths, Weaknesses and How the Rangers Should Approach the matchup. Let’s get to it…
Fleury is a very interesting case study for a goalie evaluator. He is an extremely gifted athlete who has impeccable technical ability. The interesting thing lies in his unpredictability. He is a fan of the poke check and can be recklessly aggressive at times. This generally works in his favor as he can have a little bit of that “Tim Thomas effect” on the opposition when he decides to switch up his style of play.
When he is adhering to his technical game, he is matched by very few in technique. Fleury, Carey Price, and Henrik Lundqvist are my top 3 goaltenders easily in technical soundness. He is incredibly flexible and moves with a speed and fluidity that is the envy of most contemporary goaltenders. Fleury stands at a lanky 6’2” and 180 lbs., which is more than enough size given his movement capabilities.
Fleury’s first and foremost strength is his skating ability. He has almost unparalleled control of his feet and legs and possesses a smooth and powerful butterfly slide. He has the ability to pivot and carry himself from one side of the net to the other with a single push. His upper body balance is remarkably consistent and doesn’t often allow himself to be pushed too far forward or backwards, which generally leads to balanced save execution and proper rebound positioning.
Marc-Andre also has tremendous angular positioning. He is almost always square to the shooter and very rarely gets pulled off his angle tracking the puck. There was a reason he was a #1 overall pick back in ’03. Plus, his nickname is Flower and the awesomeness of that cannot be overstated.
For all his impressive strengths, Fleury also has some considerable weaknesses. First, he is prone to incredibly streaky play. From an evaluation standpoint, it seems that when he struggles, he has a habit of over-utilizing some of his less technically sound techniques. He starts poke-checking more, starts using the double-pad stack and split saves more often. For Flower to play up to his capabilities, he needs to play within his game and not try to force the issue. Second, Fleury is a consistently weak puck-handler. Like almost all NHL goalies, he is serviceable at stopping the dump and chase and moving the puck to an adjacent defender. However, when put under pressure, his decision making skills and his physical ability to force the puck to safe areas is definitely in the bottom half of the league.
The interesting thing about Fleury is that despite all his considerable talent, he is not really the type of goalie who flat out steals games from his opponents. Granted, I haven’t watched Fleury as intensively as some other goaltenders, but rarely have I seen Fleury pick his team up and carry them where they need to go. He works best in a team environment with everyone doing their fair share. Now, there is nothing wrong with that type of player, but it makes him slightly less intimidating in a playoff atmosphere than a player like Henrik Lundqvist or Tim Thomas.
How the Rangers Should Approach the Matchup
I wish I could offer some specific fix for beating Fleury, but considering the strength of his overall game, he should be attacked with the natural enemy of all elite goaltenders: traffic in front. The best way to mitigate the effect of a fantastic goaltender is to take the ability to make saves out his control. When you get traffic in front of the net, the puck can change direction quickly and obscure the goaltender’s ability to track the incoming shot. It’s not often that an top tier goalie gets beat by a shot from the outside when he has the benefit of a clear lane.
For the past few weeks, the Rangers have been employing some set plays to take advantage of Carl Hagelin’s speed. Considering Fleury’s puck-handling prowess, it’s probably a good idea to prioritize this type of play against the Pens. The Rangers have a tremendous forecheck and if using Hagelin’s speed to force Fleury into more touches behind the net, it’s possible to force him into some mistakes.
Now I know The Suit is going to disagree with my assessment of Fleury’s great strengths, but I’m the goalie guy, so who are you going to listen to? (Just kidding Suit, I get where your coming from). From my perspective, Fleury is another important piece of an ever dangerous Penguins squad that will give any team fits in the playoffs. He has a Stanley Cup to his credit, but has shown the propensity to be a mere mortal when his game is not going 100%. The Rangers need to make his life miserable in front of the net or hope for one of those cold streaks, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Stayed tuned for the most humungous big goalie in the universe: Ilya Bryzgalov is up next.