2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins Season Preview

This summer saw some significant changes for the Penguins—mostly in the front office where General Manager Ray Shero was replaced by Jim Rutherford and head coach Dan Bylsma was relieved of his duties in favor of Mike Johnston. However, the moves were as abundant on the ice as they were in the front office.

Most notably, the Penguins made waves at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by trading James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Unrestricted free agents Brooks Or3621604412_57016e5b18pik and Matt Niskanen signed elsewhere, but the team was able to lure Christian Ehrhoff with a one-year, $4 million contract. Despite these changes, the real question for the Penguins this upcoming season will revolve around goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and his ability to shoulder the load in a contract season.

Fleury, who was drafted first overall by the Penguins in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009. Since then, while his regular season numbers have been consistent, Fleury struggled heavily in the postseason. In 2011 he posted a 4.63 goals against average and a .834 save percentage in six games. He struggled again in 2012 with a 3.52 goals against average and a .883 in five games. However, Fleury regained his prior form last season with a 2.40 goals against average—his best postseason save percentage since 2008—a .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 13 games. Still, the team failed to advance past the New York Rangers in the second round after leading the series 3-1.

While this loss, and the team’s inability to advance deep into the playoffs since their Stanley Cup win, heavily influenced the decision to replace Shero and Bylsma, Fleury’s inconsistent play—especially in the postseason—has been a trouble spot for the team.

With Fleury scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, expect his play to be dissected heavily throughout the season. He’s already become the subject of trade rumors before the season has even begun, and a subpar performance could spell the end of his time in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins should easily challenge for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division this season behind the play of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—perennial contenders for the Art Ross Trophy. But good or bad, Fleury’s play will certainly be under a microscope and could prove to be a motivating factor or a distraction for Fleury personally and the team as a whole. Only time will tell on that front.

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