After a 6-1 loss in game two, in which neither Tomas Vokoun nor Marc-Andre Fleury could stop a beach ball, the Pittsburgh Penguins are at a crossroads with what to do with their goaltenders. Do they go back to Marc-Andre Fleury who has won them a Stanley Cup but is showing more recently that he can’t handle the playoff pressure or continue down the road with the veteran Tomas Vokoun?
The goaltending decision ahead of game three is the biggest decision of Dan Bylsma’s coaching career. If he chooses the wrong guy, the Penguins’ hopes of lifting another Stanley Cup will end at the Conference Finals.
Going into the Conference finals, no one expected this series to be high scoring. Sure the Penguins have superstars that when they’re on can make any goalie look like a house league call-up, but they were facing the hard-hitting, physical Boston Bruins who have a stellar goalie in Tuukka Rask between the pipes. And oh yeah, Rask is playing for a new, multi-year contract.
Remember last time the Penguins faced a physical team in the playoffs? They were eliminated in the first round because they got coaxed into the physical play. After game one it appeared that would be the case again.
Heading into this series all questions surrounded the goalies. Would the Penguins continue with Tomas Vokoun and would he be good enough to lead them to a Stanley Cup? Would Tuukka Rask be able to withstand the Penguins offence?
With 9 goals in the first two games, it’s clear the Penguins goaltending isn’t getting the job done. While all the blame isn’t just on Vokoun or Fleury as the whole Penguins team needs to be better, the Penguins also need a goaltender in net who is going to come up with a big save to keep them in the game.
The time to put Fleury back between the pipes has long passed; this is Tomas Vokoun’s Penguin team right now. Not saying the Penguins will go forward with the 36 year-old veteran next season, but this is turning into a similar situation that the Canadiens went through in 2009 with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.
This is the second straight post-season where Fleury has faltered, he arguably played himself out of the starters role and Bylsma chose to run with Vokoun. It’s too late for Bylsma to run back and catch the Fleury bus while he’s riding full speed ahead on the Vokoun train.
The time to put Fleury back between the pipes was immediately after he was pulled in round 1 or the beginning of round two, not when you’re down two games in the Conference Finals. The Penguins have asked Tomas Vokoun to step up and carry the Penguins; he’s done that and now deserves a chance to get the Penguins out of this hole. If not for Tomas Vokoun the Penguins would have been eliminated in round 1.
Going back to the fragile Fleury for game three would be a major mistake. It doesn’t matter how good he’s looked in practice while riding the bench; that’s practice, against his own teammates, not a playoff game against the Boston Bruins. Fleury has proved he doesn’t have what it takes to perform in the playoffs lately. The Penguins need to go with the goalie that gives them the best shot at winning and that goalie is Tomas Vokoun.
There’s no question the Penguins offence needs to step it up in game three. Just three goals through the first two games with all the star power they have is inexcusable. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal all need to be better, they’re counted on to lead the Penguins and right now they’re not doing that. For whatever reason Crosby isn’t living up to the “C” on his chest and the Penguins are lacking some serious leadership.
While the offence needs to pick up the slack, the goalies need to make key saves. Throwing Marc-Andre Fleury into game three reeks of desperation, Tomas Vokoun has been fine since he took over, he had a rough game but so did the rest of the team. If you’re going to replace Tomas Vokoun with Fleury in game three you may as well put Matt Cooke on the first line instead of Sidney Crosby because Crosby had a rough game.
The Penguins have made their bed with Tomas Vokoun, now it’s time for them to lie in it.