The last six months haven't been easy for Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He surrendered more than his fair share of soft playoff goals and was benched in favor of backup Tomas Vokoun.
Over the summer, Fleury met with a sports psychologist, ostensibly to improve his mental toughness. Since then, The Flower has made a number of changes to his pre-game ritual. He no longer meets with the media the mornings of games. In practice, he doesn't joke around as much as he did before.
So far, the changes are working. Of course, not all of Pittsburgh's playoff failure can be heaved onto the back of its goalie. Head coach Dan Bylsma had no answer for opponent's stretch pass and his best defense was simply to keep the puck in the offensive zone as much as possible.
As a result, Penguins general manager Ray Shero brought in long-time NHL veteran Jacques Martin to help with the defense. Perhaps Martin's biggest splash, in addition to his mere presence behind the bench as an overqualified assistant, is the stiffened neutral zone defense. The Pens are employing a 1-3-1 defense, bringing back the left-wing lock with success.
What this means is that Fleury is no longer left to dry the way Grant Fuhr was with Edmonton. Teams aren't teeing off on the Penguin goalie.
It's still early in the season, and there are rightly a lot of Fleury naysayers, but so far the results have been outstanding. He's off to the best start of his career with a 10-2 record, 1.83 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Surely he'll experience some regression, but for fantasy owners who picked him up on the cheap, they have to be smiling like a butcher's dog.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
Ducks (Jonas Hiller) at Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist), 7:30 PM
Red Wings (Jimmy Howard) at Jets (Ondrej Pavelec), 8:00 PM
Luca Sbisa, D - (Ankle) Former Flyer No. 1 pick could make season debut Monday.
Sami Vatanen, D - (Upper Body) Scored first goal Saturday, but status for Monday unknown.
Saku Koivu, F - (Head) Out for Monday's tilt at Madison Square Garden.
Teemu Selanne, F - (Mouth) Out at least another couple weeks.
Matt Beleskey, F- (Thumb) Not expected back before Nov. 12.
Victor Fasth, G - (Lower Body) Out Monday against New York.
Jakob Silfverberg, F - (Broken Hand) Out for the next month.
Ryan Callahan, F - (Thumb) Still a week or so from playing.
Dominic Moore, F - (Oblique) Not expected to play Monday.
Rick Nash, F - (Concussion) Not on LTIR but no timetable for return.
Brendan Smith, D - (Shoulder) Expected to miss the next week-plus.
Johan Franzen, F - (Illness) Missed Saturday, but due back Monday.
Jonathan Ericsson, D - (Shoulder) Placed on LTIR Saturday.
Jonas Gustavsson, G - (Neck) Also placed on injured reserve Saturday.
Mark Stuart, D - (Hip) Placed on injured reserve Saturday.
Jim Slater, F - (Undisclosed) Out Monday with no date for return.
Jacob Trouba, D - (Neck) Not close to a return.
Paul Stastny - His numbers have declined since posting a 79-point campaign in 2009, but he's surrounded by better talent now and is flying under the radar. He has four goals and 10 points in 13 games and his plus-10 rating is already his best since 2007, when he went plus-22. It's hard to trust a guy that has stunk for so long, but there's no denying he's off to a good start.
Milan Lucic - Lucic played so poorly at times last year that the Bruins made him a healthy scratch. This year he's scored six goals in 13 games after potting seven in 46 a season ago. Lucic already has 44 hits and 14 penalty minutes, but the offense that was missing in 2012-13 appears to be back.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - The center totaled 80 games in the last two seasons combined due to concussion issues. He might not play 80 games in 2013-14, but he's healthy now and has six points in 13 games. Bouchard is a part of an offensively-inclined Islanders squad and posted three straight years between 57 and 63 points with Minnesota. He'll score at a decent clip - probably better than a lot that's on the waiver wire - until he gets hurt again.
Jakub Voracek - If and when the Flyers turn things around, Voracek and Claude Giroux will likely be at the forefront of the charge. The winger has one goal and four points in 13 games thus far and is counted on by Philly primarily for his offense. He's totaled between 46 and 50 points his last four years, but for now he's best left on the bench.
Mark Arcobello - The previously unknown forward, who had five assists in his first five games, has been held pointless in his last five contests. If anyone can figure Edmonton's progress after its string of top overall picks, feel free to let me know. It certainly hasn't been linear. Who would have thunk Calgary would be the more interesting team in Alberta one month into the season?
Jordan Staal - His pedigree speaks for itself, but at some point he's got to skate quietly and carry a big hockey stick, doesn't he? The thinking when he was with Pittsburgh was he didn't see the offensive opportunities with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him at center. What's his excuse now? One goal in 14 games? He's not even hitting anybody anymore. Hopefully his $60 million deal didn't go to his head and he produces his typical 45-55 point campaign, but patience is running low.
Depending on league-savvy poolies, five guys come to mind. First, Max Pacioretty makes for a great acquisition in the event some numbskull dropped him - it happens. Second. Loui Eriksson isn't far off from returning to the Bruins. He'll put up some strong numbers, just like Pacioretty. Calgary rookie goalie Reto Berra won his debut Sunday. Of course, he's tending for the Flames, but at least he's off to a good start. Finally, Kings prospect, Tyler Toffoli, played Saturday because of injuries to several forwards. He picked up an assist, took five shots and totaled 19:23 TOI. At some point he'll stick in the NHL, whether that time is now remains to be seen.
Fantasy Website Tip
Yahoo! may have upset some fantasy hockey players with its re-design, but fortunately the Canadian version remains the same as it was last year. Instead of going to “sports.yahoo.com”, simply go to “ca.sports.yahoo.com” by adding the letters “ca.” to the beginning of the link.