Greetings from the Tampa airport, dear readers. I’m quite exhausted this morning, and not because of the long trip — though certainly that didn’t help; rather, I am confident I spotted my first bed bugs under the mattress. Yikes. I can say that for all the concerned that come with traveling, bed bugs have jumped to the top of my list. The worst part is that seeing one leads you to assume that there are hundreds, and even if you haven’t had your blood sucked — and there are no signs (yet) that I have — you tend to imagine bugs taking liberties with you. Anyway, this paranoia should serve me well going forward, no?
= So, I hope you’ve read my game story and discovered the alarming stat I dug up Wednesday night. If not: G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY has allowed a first- or second-shot goal in seven starts dating to the 2010 playoffs. Now, not all of these goals were on him, certainly not the ones he surrendered in his last two starts. Still. I asked Fleury about this, and his response was in my game story. (Plugs, plugs, plugs.) After our chat in the visiting dressing room at the St. Pete Times Forum he looked at me, rolled his eyes while tipping his head backwards, sighed and said, “It’s just frustrating, you know?” I think we’d all agree that everybody knows how it feels to be stuck on something that we can’t explain. What I don’t know — and after talking with coaches, management and teammates extensively about this, I get the feeling neither to they — is what has happened to Fleury.
I’m often accused, correctly, of being an apologist for him. That is because he is: A) the most genuine athlete I’ve ever covered; but mostly, B) a goalie that was outstanding for the Penguins in each of their 16 wins during the 2009 playoffs, making big saves in critical moments to help them win the Cup. I presumed the confidence he gained from that run would help him elevate to a consistently elite level. It’s actually been a case of the reverse.
I am starting to wonder when this situation officially becomes a problem.
= Something that might help Fleury: Penguins defensemen not giving ground when opposing forwards enter the zone with the puck. Look at footage of Ds ALEX GOLIGOSKI and DERYK ENGELLAND on Tampa’s second goal. Just way too much space between them and the shooter, and this isn’t something that was exclusive to this game. Fleury is often back in his net these days, but take a look at where his defensemen are positioned.
= I’d be shocked if the Penguins don’t lead the NHL by a wide margin in quality shorthanded chances allowed. This power play seems to invite giveaways. The NHL, so far as I know, doesn’t keep a stat for shorthanded chances allowed, but the early eye test tells me they’ll be comin’ round the mountain.
= A birdie tells me C EVGENI MALKIN will be modeling those Winter Classic threads today. Maybe the new duds will help him find that goal-scoring touch.