The only way to bury the haunting ghosts of past failures is to focus fully on the current task at hand. In a season where slumps and losing streaks have hit outrageous levels for some, the importance of non-statistical goaltending factors is stronger than ever before. So if you’re going to battle the pangs of tough weekly losses in your own fantasy league with any success, you need to heighten your sense of situational awareness.


For many of the top fantasy goalies, their path to the top is never a straightforward journey. It’s a winding climb, a fall followed by a rise, followed by another fall. We’ve all heard the saying, “You have to lose before you can win…” and it certainly rings true for the likes of Craig Anderson, Ondrej Pavelec and Jaroslav Halak. But another phrase we hear often is, “You play like you practice…” and that is where the art of internal compete is revealed.


Compete. It seems so simple to understand, to execute. But at the end of the day, competing on a consistent basis is nearly impossible over the course of an 82-game season. And once a goalie’s compete level is impacted by the infinite statistical and mental factors that flow in and out of their daily lives, it is the fantasy managers that are stirred into a dizzying array of tough decisions.


We never know what a goalie is truly thinking. We only see what they are doing. So what makes “Compete” such an art is the simple fact that no two games are alike, no two situations are the same and no two paths to a positive result are traveled in the same manner.


A few days ago I was asked to cover the recent play and fantasy outlook for three struggling goalies – Steve Mason, Niklas Backstrom and Marc-Andre Fleury. As soon as all three were named, the term Compete all but slapped me in the face. For each of these goalies, could their compete level truly be the source of their struggles? Let’s find out.




Fleury’s current stat-line reveals that he’s been mediocre at best. He’s currently 10-6-0 with a 2.52 GAA and only a .904 save percentage. He’s struggling with a four-game losing streak in which he’s allowed 13 goals against. And when it comes to Fleury’s compete level, it has to be scrutinized. I watched him in San Jose and he’s just not focused on tracking the puck in his zone on a consistent basis. It shows in his weak rebound control and his inability to make the timely save.


Although I rarely spend time crunching numbers, I noticed that the last two times he has started in the second game of a back-to-back, both were tough losses where he didn’t see a lot of shots (Oct. 24 and Oct. 31). On Halloween, he only stopped 13 of 15 shots in a in a 2-1 loss to the Wild. That’s more proof his focus is lacking, because the loss was not a result of being over-worked.


Nevertheless, Fleury is still one of the best butterfly goalies in the world. When he’s on, he’s on. When he’s not, he’s pretty terrible. If owners want to squeeze the most out of him, they’ll ride the highs and stay far away from the lows.

Similar to Cristobal Huet, Fleury is a pure Quebec butterfly goalie, so he thrives on rhythm. He’s most effective when he sees shots cleanly, early and often. But this has been a different type of season for Fleury, one in which he’s only facing an average of 25.4 shots per game. Only three times this season has he faced more than 30 shots (2-1).


He’s already had a quality eight-game winning streak to start the season and now he’s mired in a losing streak, so expect more of these highs and lows the rest of the year. At this point last year, Fleury was 8-3-2, had been pulled once, and had allowed 40 goals against, putting him over the 3.0 GAA mark. Compared to last season, I’m left with the expectation that Fleury’s stats and his level of play will hover around this mediocre 2.5-2.6 GAA.


It also must be said that Evgeni Malkin’s absence from the lineup (Oct. 29 – Nov. 13) directly impacted not only his overall play, but the play of the entire team. Fleury only won once when Geno was out of the lineup and it was a 4-3 win over the Ducks, a game in which he faced 29 shots. Let’s see how much Fleury’s play improves now that Malkin is back in the lineup.


But if you really want to know how Fleury is playing, watch to see if he has sharp movement, an intense focus and good rebound control. Those are all signs of a strong compete level, and all things he has been unable to display on a consistent basis this season, especially when Malkin was out of the lineup.




The sophomore slump. It’s an ordinary story for a number of young, talented goalies in the league. When met with a strong and consistent compete level, the slump usually tapers off sooner than later. But when met with indifference, it’s often perpetuated for an entire season. The key for me, right here, right now, is to figure out which one will be the end result for Mason, a goalie who has the skill, but doesn’t yet have the experience of playing a full NHL season.


First of all, Mason is currently dealing with back spasms. This was reported yesterday (Sunday) afternoon by the local media (Aaron Portzline I believe), meaning that Mathieu Garon will be starting tonight against his former team. To be honest, a few days away from the rink is the best thing possible for Mason. He needs a major reset, a chance to get away from the pressures of living up to the Calder Trophy winner label. It can only be a positive thing for the kid, so these spasms, if they are not too serious, are a sheer blessing in disguise.


Dissecting his season to date, there’s not one statistic that sticks out more than the others when it comes to figuring out his issues. Instead, it’s a day in time. Let’s face it - his first six games were actually pretty decent appearances. He went 4-2 with only six goals allowed in the four wins, but 11 goals allowed in the two losses. Similar to Fleury, when he was on, he was on. When he was lacking focus and a strong level of compete, he struggled greatly. It was also very obvious that Mason was lacking some confidence and mental toughness, but this could be credited to the fact that his rookie season with the Blue Jackets didn’t actually begin in early-October.


But I remember seeing everything change for Mason on the second night of a back-to-back series. On Oct. 24 in Anaheim, he stopped 32 shots in a 6-4 win, a game where he was very sharp technically, but not all there mentally. Instead of being rested the following night, he was thrown back into the fire against the Kings and allowed six goals on 25 shots in the loss. It was a terrible decision by the coaching staff that perpetuated Mason’s waning confidence.


Since then, things have not been the same emotionally, mentally, competitively and therefore statistically. Mason looks distracted. He’s still lacking confidence. He isn’t quite sure of his positioning and his depth in the crease is all the proof you need to know that he’s struggling internally to compete at the same level as last year. Since the back-to-back in California, Mason has gone 2-2-2 but allowed 23 goals.


In the abysmal loss to Detroit, the wheels fell off completely. He did not have any focus left in the tank to stop the bleeding and things only got worse as the game went on. The decision to put Mason back in the game was a terrible one, as that is the toughest mental hurdle to jump over for a young struggling goaltender. When the timing and the confidence isn’t there, it’s simply not there.


There are times to motivate a goalie and times when they simply need rest. I have no problem calling out Hitchcock on this one. He simply made the wrong decision that night. And it could have a serious negative impact. But Mason has the power to turn things around in an instant. I spoke about rhythm a few weeks ago and how it builds up and then snaps into place in an instant, right? Well, all Mason has to do is build himself up again to right the ship and get back on track. And personally I have plenty of confidence that he will make this happen before the Olympic break.


Overall, there is little hope for Mason right now to play at the same emotional level he did last season. There’s something about the way he reacts to being scored on that has me questioning his confidence. He still has a lot to learn about the mental aspects of the position, which is only to be expected. Technique and skill-wise, Mason is still one of the best goalies out there. But skill will only take you so far. Regardless of how a goalie is playing lately, or how much confidence they have, if they don’t compete to stop every shot, things are only going to get worse.




I’ve spoken ad nauseam regarding the terrible signing of Manny Legace. After he played like I expected in his first two starts, Leighton finally got his chance to stop the bleeding. Sure enough, he came out with confidence and made timely saves as the Hurricanes vaulted to a 3-0 lead. In the second, Carolina was able to extend their lead to 4-1.


And then it happened. It was with less than 14 minutes remaining in the second. Leighton’s confidence was high in the midst of a three-goal lead. Then a scrum took place just to the right of his goal. For an unknown reason, Leighton pulled his mask on top of his head, skated out of his crease, said something to a Wild player, and with a semi-cocky swagger, skated back into his net. I have no idea what he said, but if you were watching, maybe you noticed this too.


A few minutes later, Robbie Earl scored to make it 4-2. Then John Scott made it 4-3 less than a minute later. All of a sudden, Leighton had destroyed his strong focus by this act of removing himself from the crease in order to vent, or act tough. Instead of focusing on his internal compete and his movement, he projected outwardly in an unnecessary fashion. For the rest of the period, his timing was totally off. His play was not nearly as sharp and he was rattled.


But give him credit. When Carolina’s confidence was slipping and the score was 4-3, he made two huge desperate blocker saves to sustain the one goal lead. Then in the third period he made a huge glove save to preserve a 4-4 tie. In the shootout, he was poised and focused and helped Carolina finally put an end to their disastrous 14-game slide.


I don’t need to reiterate the importance of mental toughness in a situation like this. Just realize it was an incredible lesson learned for a young goalie capable of developing into a quality puck stopper. If he’s rewarded with the start in their next game, he could continue to gain confidence and gain more fantasy value in the process. Keep an eye out – he improved two-fold in a single game, all stemming from a non-statistical moment in time.


If you read any other trashy articles or blogs or reports about Leighton discussing how bad his stats are, maybe you’ll read this and realize that stats hardly tell the story of a goalie’s play, and in many cases, their overall fantasy value.


My analysis on Niklas Backstrom can be found in the School of Block forums. Feel free to post any type of goalie question or comment you have for me in there and I’ll answer it as soon as possible!

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Comments (7)add comment

Matthew Hebron said:

... Good stuff Maximus.

I will give you Fleury played pretty good against Philly. I didn't watch the Canes performance - so i won't commment on it, although the stats look pretty good. He was awful against the Caps. And was awful for the first few games against the Wings, before finding his rhythm and then getting pulled then standing tall.
But he was big when he needed to be - so props to him for that.

And just for fun - Best Goalies in the East.

1. Cam Ward
2. Marty Brodeur
3. Ryan Miller
4. Henrik Lundqvist
5. Marc-Anrde Fleury
6. Seymon Valamov
7. Tuukka Rask =)

November 19, 2009
Votes: -1

Maximus said:

Mr Zizzla
Justin + Matt Great points guys and yeah, i am a huge pens fan.

I do agree that he doesn't seem focused all the time and his play out of the blue paint is terrible! i have to hold my breath every time he leaves the net.
That SJ game you both mentioned was just a disgrace! The whole team looked like crap and no one, especially Fleury, showed up for that one!

I also agree that he doesn't quite have the ELITE status quite yet and Brodeur is the best goalie in the East without question followed by Lundqvist in my opinion. He is doing everything right though, and i love his attitude towards life and the game but sometimes he needs to get a little more serious. He is still missing a few pieces to his game to be Elite, mainly puck handling and consistency, both of which i hope he is working on in the next few seasons.

The comment about him being average in the playoffs is a little skewed i think. they faced 2 great O teams in PHI and WAS and he prevailed through both and once they faced a weaker/fatigued CAR O, he was lights out! you have to give credit where it is due and he earned that Cup as much as any other PIT player did!

great points guys!
November 18, 2009
Votes: +0

Matthew Hebron said:

... Maximus you are CLEARLY a Pens homer. And that is fine - it is great to support your team to the enth degree and tell everyone that your players and team is the best. Thats what makes sport great...

My argument with Fleury would go much deeper than since the Pens lost their defensive corpse.

Fleury isn't a top 10 goalie in the league (And just barely in the east)

Yes - he can make HUGE saves. Huge flashy saves. But he lets in alot of soft goals.
And yes - I watch a lot of Pens games.
Fleury's main problem is consistently.
What makes a goalie great is the ability to play 60+ games a year and turn upto 58 of them. Fleury just doesn't have the consistency or focus.
He has never played a full season and posted a save% higher than .915.

Still good - but not worthy for best in the league. Especially on such a dominant team.

Even in the playoffs last year - he was ordinary. The last 2 games, he was huge.
But the games before that - he was playing awful.

Now Fleury is still fairly young and just about to enter his prime. And I have no doubt that he will be one of the best goalies in the NHL in a few years.

But right now - he just isn't up there. I read some Pens fan tonight saying Fleury was 'The best goalie in the East right now'

Fleury still has a long way to go before he gets anywhere near that.

Give him some years - by the time he is 26 I bet I am singing a different tune
November 17, 2009
Votes: +0

Justin Goldman said:

... Maximus,

The loss of the defensemen is something I should have noted in the article, as Kraftster pointed out. Once I saw in Dobber's ramblings that Goligoski was out now, it brought the loss of defensemen to my attention even moreso.

Fleury's current slump could be attributed to the loss of top D-men, but that doesn't account for his lack of consistent compete. That's what I have noticed over the last five games, especially in the Sharks game.

I do watch most of the Penguins games (not when the Avs are playing though, and not the full 60 minutes) but Fleury making HUGE SAVES is nothing new. He's always capable of making incredible flashy glove saves (he's made some beauties this year) but that's expected of him on a consistent basis. He has the ability to do that game-in, game-out. That's what makes him one of the best goalies in the world, and I stated that in the article.

Precision is a good term to use in Fleury's case. He has not been as sharp with his movement nor his focus, all parts of being competitive for 60 minutes in every game. It gets to be a mental burden when you don't have the type of help you're used to getting from the top four defensemen.

But at the same time, Fleury is an elite, Stanley-Cup winning goalie. He needs to be situationally aware of these things and he needs to work even harder to compensate for these defensive losses. That's what makes him an MVP for the Pens and someone the team can rely on to make the big flashy saves AND the routine saves due to a strong work ethic.

I agree with you that Fleury has not been terrible in games (sans the SJ), but at the same time, he's not playing at the level he capable of. Hope that makes a little more sense!

Definitely should have pointed out the lack of top 3-4 d-men though...that's an oversight on my part!
November 16, 2009
Votes: +0

Maximus said:

Mr Zizzla
Fleury Would it not make sense to associate Fleury's recent "slump" to the fact that 3, now 4, of PIT's top 6 D are injured? I think that has a lot more to do with it than Malkin as he is not really the defensive type but granted they will play better with malkin in the lineup of course.
Not sure if you get to watch many Pens games but Fleury has stolen a few games and creates HUGE momentum shifts for the Pens with some HIGHLIGHT REEL saves! Remember that save on Ovechkin in game 7 in the 1st? well he does that every couple of nights and there is no shortage of him robbing players of sure goals, ESPECIALLY with his lightening quick glove.

In my opinion, Fleury has played better to start off season than he has before and it is clear that he is a different and much better goalie after that spectacular Stanley Cup run! he is on the verge of crossing the line into Elite status if he can get a few shutouts and lower that GAA.
November 16, 2009
Votes: +0

Justin Goldman said:

A few new updates Okay so these updates came across my desk this morning...

1. Steve Mason is actually backing up Garon in their game tonight vs. EDM, so he's actually not really getting away from the rink for a few days like I expected. Originally it was reported that a goalie would get called up from Syracuse, but that obviously didn't happen.

2. Leighton was the first goalie off the ice today, so it looks like he is indeed getting the start tomorrow against Montreal.

3. Goligoski's injury will probably take away from Fleury's play, just a little bit. He will have to be even more focused and compete even harder to turn things around and get back into a rhythm.
November 16, 2009
Votes: +0

Kraftster said:

... Really like the internal compete topic, Justin.

I think its also worth noting that the Pens were also without Gonchar during the current Fleury losing skid. The impact of losing a #1 Dman can't really be overstated. I think a lot of people outside of Pittsburgh (justifiably) don't realize just how good Gonchar has become defensively. Its also worth noting that Orpik and Letang (arguably #2 and #3 dmen on the team) were both out for losses in this stretch as well. Along with Malkin as mentioned (and Kennedy). That offers a lot as far as the explanation for the losing streak.

What I do agree with, however, is that there has been a noticeable difference in Fleury's precision over the past half dozen games or so. Outside of the Boston game where he made some really key saves, I thought, he has been just so-so. I'm not sure I recall any games where he's been terrible yet, though.

(Admitted Pens fan and Fleury owner, but, I try to maintain a fair amount of objectivity)
November 16, 2009
Votes: +0
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