Days after the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2013 season ended in disastrous fashion, head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero stuck by their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. After another meltdown in the postseason, the organization was not going to throw him under the bus.
As the 2013-14 season approaches, the number one concern with the Penguins is Fleury and where his head is at. He last started in Game 4 against the New York Islanders in the opening round and allowed 14 combined goals in Games 2, 3 and 4, forcing Bylsma to turn to Tomas Vokoun the rest of the way.
A new season brings a new chance for Fleury to get his game back on track -- in the postseason, of course, where his numbers are drastically different from those in the first 82 games. It also could be the final chance for the 28-year old.
With two seasons left on his contract, another poor showing would likely signal the need for Shero to go in a new direction. Fleury knows judgement on him comes beginning with Game 83.
"I think that's how it is all the time," said Fleury. "We talk about the season while it's going on, but at the end of it, it's about what you do in the playoffs. That's what really matters."
Earlier this week Bylsma pumped the tires of his netminding pair calling them the "best tandem in the league." Vokoun's a proven No. 1 option, but his experience can only do so much to assist Fleury.
"Marc, that's something he has to figure out for himself," Vokoun said. "When you go on the ice as a goalie, that's the one thing — you go on the ice, and you're alone. Nobody can help you. People can do all kinds of things, but once you're out there, you're out there. You gotta deal with whatever comes your way, the best you can."
Over the summer Fleury visited a sports psychologist, but as he said on Thursday, in the end he's the one who has to stop the pucks.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy