On paper when you see the Pittsburgh Penguins squaring off against the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, you wouldn’t expect the series to be tied at 2 after 4 games. Some fans may have expected the Islanders to have already been eliminated, but the Islanders are sticking around and they owe a huge thank you to Marc-Andre Fleury. With Fleury not playing his best hockey, is it time for the Penguins to turn to Tomas Vokoun?
After the Pittsburgh Penguins made major strides to build the team for a deep playoff run, seeing them struggle in the first round is a big shock. Heading into the playoffs the Penguins had a roster boasting the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang. When looking at their roster it’s hard to find a weak spot but it’s becoming more apparent goaltending may be that weak spot.
After last years melt-down in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers, there have been questions about Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending. Just how worried were the Penguins about their goaltending? Worried enough to acquire Tomas Vokoun to help lighten the load and be ready in case Fleury has another playoff implosion.
It appears that once again Fleury is having a playoff meltdown and that meltdown appeared to hit rock bottom after a laughable 6-4 loss in game 4. The Penguins helped out their netminder as much as they could but when they needed a big save they didn’t get it, instead they got several questionable goals.
This is nothing new for Marc-Andre Fleury and is a major cause for concern for the Penguins. For a goaltender playing behind a world class team Fleury’s lack of playoff success is alarming. In his last 10 playoff games (including last year) he’s 4-6 with a 4.11 GAA and a .860 Save Percentage, not the type of numbers a team needs to advance in the playoffs. For those who don’t put their stock in GAA and Save Percentage, Fleury has allowed 3 or more goals in 10 of his last 13 playoffs games and 4 or more goals in 9 of those last 13. Whatever Fleury is doing isn’t working and he’s beginning to get a reputation as a playoff “chocker”.
Even when you look back at the year Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup, Fleury’s numbers weren’t good at all. He recorded a 2.61 GAA and .908 Save Percentage in 24 games. When you dig a little further and look at Fleury’s regular season stats he’s right around the middle of the pack, average, he seems to just float by in the regular season. Which begs the question, does Marc-Andre Fleury just benefit from a skilled Penguins roster?
For a goalie that has a Stanley Cup ring, Olympic gold medal and two World Junior Championship silver medals, Fleury certainly isn’t playing like a championship level goalie.
It doesn’t matter if a team has the skill to score 8 goals a game, if they don’t get key saves from their goalie when they need them they will continue to lose. When a goalie lets in a weak goal, the team know’s and it takes a lot of momentum out of their game. What good is it to score 6 goals if your goalie is just going let in 7?
If you watched the game and saw the reactions of the Penguins players after the weak goals, you can see how frustrated the Penguin players are with their netminder. The players have lost faith in Fleury and now is the perfect time to play $4 million back-up Tomas Vokoun.
Tomas Vokoun is 3-0 against the New York Islanders this season with a .90 G AA and a .970 Save Percentage. Putting in Vokoun who has been solid against the Islanders, may be the Penguins only move in game 5. Fleury and the Penguins are reeling and looking for answers, Vokoun may be the answer. Switching goalies may serve as a wake-up call for the Penguins who have been out-played 5 on 5 by the Islanders in games 2, 3 and 4. Vokoun is a very capable goalie and not your average back-up goalie. With 13 NHL seasons under his belt he’s been around the league and has experience.
Two things people can take away from this series; The Penguins aren’t as good as everyone believes they are and the Islanders aren’t as bad as everyone believes. The Islanders have been, out-working and out-skating the Penguins, using their speed and youth to their advantage. The Islanders also don’t have any pressure, no one gave them a shot in this series, if they pull off the upset all the focus will still be on what went wrong for the Penguins. The Islanders deserve some credit for playing their best and forcing the Penguins to make a goalie change, they’ve come out a lot better than everyone expected.
While goaltending isn’t the only issue for the Penguins in this series, it’s a big piece of the puzzle. At this point heading into game 5 the Penguins don’t have any other choice than to play Tomas Vokoun. You can’t throw a delicate ticking time bomb in Fleury back out there, that would be feeding him to the Wolves who already know they can eat him.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the Penguins want to advance in the playoffs they’d be wise to give Tomas Vokoun some playing time. Crosby has the skill and wants to win multiple Stanley Cups, don’t waste his skill waiting for a goalie to figure out his playoff woes.