The Fleury vs. Vokoun question being bandied about (WARNING: Ron Cook alert) in newspapers and on the radio today bewilders me. That Marc-Andre Fleury is the $5MM per year goaltender who was the primary starter in the regular season should have precious little bearing on his status for game one of the Ottawa series. The Penguins didn’t play their best hockey in front of MAF, but they also didn’t play their best hockey in front of Vokoun in game six. The difference between the two is Vokoun made the saves his team needed him to make to keep them in the game while Fleury didn’t. I’m as confused as the next person how the Pens could play stifling, maddening defense in games one and five and then proceed to run around like idiots in games two, three, four, and six, but it happened, and they needed their goaltender to pick them up. Vokoun did, Fleury didn’t.
Why not start Vokoun, and when he has a bad game (this will happen, because it always happens in the playoffs) you pull him for Fleury? Assuming Fleury actually has anything left to give this team and fills in admirably for the remainder of that game he reclaims the mantle as the starter. If he doesn’t, he remains your backup and you figure out what to do with him in the offseason and in the meantime hope like hell Vokoun can put himself back together.
Starting Fleury over a guy who just gave you two wins in your two most important games of the season with a 1.41 GAA while stopping 66 of 69 shots simply because, "Fleury is the starting goaltender of this team," or, "We pay him $5MM, we HAVE to play him," or (my favorite), "You can’t win the Stanley Cup with Tomas Vokoun as your starting goaltender," as though there is a clause written somewhere in the new CBA that prohibits Vokoun’s name from ever appearing on the Stanley Cup, makes no sense whatsoever. There isn’t a logical argument to be made supporting Fleury over Vokoun tomorrow night.
Some other thoughts:
After games two and three a popular talking point became, "The Penguins are terrified of the first round of the playoffs," as though this was an excuse for their poor play. Absolutely nobody said this before the series started, so to point to it as some kind of actual thing that exists seems revisionist at best and a prime example of lazy sports talk at worst. If the Pens were truly somehow terrified of round one they probably wouldn’t have been picked by everyone on Earth to win this series in five games or less, and the probably wouldn’t have come out firing on all cylinders in game one. And when game two started and they were up 2-0 before your nachos were ready and 3-1 after the first period I don’t think they sat in the locker room between periods staring at each other when suddenly someone said, "This first round series is off to a great start, you guys!" and they all finally realized OH GEEZTHIS IS ROUND ONE! and proceeded to crap the bed.
It’s impossible to overstate how important special teams were against the Islanders. Specifically, the Penguins killed 18 of 20 Islanders power plays, and their perfect six for six in games three and six, respectively, were very likely the difference in this series. If the PK falters at any point in either game we might be picking up the pieces of a lost season.
Speaking of special teams, don’t expect the Pens to score on one third of their power play chances against the Sens. They’re going to have to be much better five-on-five.
- The Pens put 167 shots on goal in six games and scored 25 times for a shooting percentage of almost 15%. The Senators allowed 180 shots in only five games (36 per game) and allowed nine goals for a save percentage of .950. If the Senators allow 36 shots on goal against Craig Anderson against the Penguins, well, there could be some problems in Ottawa. The Canadiens have a nice little group of skilled players, but they can’t match the offensive prowess of the Pens. Ottawa is going to have to tighten it up defensively if they want to hang.