Penguins Season Preview: ‘TendersPosted: 14/01/2013
It’s finally here, we are actually previewing the actual guys who will be donning the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater this year. Today we’re starting with the goalies before moving out to defense, wingers, and then the centers, before finally making our BOLD predictions for the year. We’ve attempted to look at each player from a point/counterpoint perspective–that’s not to say that we are going to totally disagree on each player, far from it, we want to examine both the statistical expectations for each guy as well as our “feel” or read of the player. We hope you enjoy and we would love for you to get back to us with your thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t read them yet, please check out our series on Advanced Hockey Statistics: Goals Versus Threshold, Points per 60 Minutes, and Player Usage Charts (including Corsi numbers). Get the lowdown after the jump.
Any NHL GM who has ever earned a dime of his salary would say you have to build from the net out to create a championship caliber team. At no point more than this year can the Penguins claim to have done this better. Since he became the first goalie to ever be drafted first overall, Marc Andre Fleury has been a polarizing figure. From his poor, raw play in the first years of his career to the high water marks like the back to back Cup Finals appearances (and win) and being the nominal, third goalie for Team Canada’s 2010 Gold Medal to the ebb and flows of the last three years. From single-handedly carrying the team when Sid and Geno suffered serious, career-threatening injuries, to being “the single cause” of the Penguins collapse last year we have gone to war with MAF for literally a decade now. But never before have the Penguins enjoyed a goaltending situation like they have this year. Brent Johnson, who posted career best numbers in 2010-11, but battled injuries and generally poor play in ‘11-12 is out, and in his place is Tomas Vokoun, perhaps the most underrated goaltender to ever play the game. Literally by nearly every metric Vokoun’s career totals are just a little better than Fleury’s (.917 SV% v. Fleury’s .909, his 2.55 GAA is better than Fleury’s 2.68) except in one crucial area: career record. His 287-284-35-43 mark can’t touch Fleury’s 226-143-2-39. The biggest question mark that has hounded Vokoun throughout his career is whether or not he can be clutch when it matters most: his history in the league has been marred by playing on bad teams–the Predators before they were good, the Panthers during the last five years of their 10-year playoff drought, even his most recent team the Capitals nearly missed the playoffs last year. And what it all means is that both MAF and Vokoun have a better than average track record in the NHL, yet they both need to perform and succeed to silence their critics.
Both need to play well, and we really believe that they both will play well. Each ‘tender will push the other and in many ways this could be the most dominant that the Pens goaltending situation could ever be. Never have they boasted two such equally talented, equally elite netminders at the same time and that could be the biggest difference in this year’s team versus last year.
- Mike: Okay so I’m gonna just air out this word vomit that I have going on in my head about Fleury and I’ll start with the elephant in the room: he was teeeerrrrrriiiibbbbllllleeee in the playoffs last year (2-4, 0 SO, 157 SA w/ .834 SV% and 4.63 GAA). But, to his defense (of which he got none in the playoffs…) he did play in 67 regular season games. He may have been overworked. Do I think Fleury is a good netminder? Yes. Do I think he’s a great netminder? At times. I think that if he brings it for the shortened season (keeping in mind the rest and the veteran Vokoun pushing him/supporting him) I think Fleury can post remarkable numbers and spectacular play for the Pens this season.
- Andrew: First player and I already have to beg to differ. And I’m going to waste no time pulling out my first ever advanced hockey statistic: Goaltender Goals Versus Threshold. Of all the advanced metrics out there, this is probably the single most important. Essentially this stat calculates how many more goals a team earned because of a certain player compared to his replacement. Last year Fleury was +8.1. In essence, simply by playing Fleury the Penguins won 8 more games than they would have otherwise, that’s 16 points. So while it is true that Fleury got overworked last year, the Pens would have been down to 92 points–the same total as the 8th seeded Ottawa Senators. Now in hindsight it may seem like the Pens would have done well to earn the 8th seed, play the Rangers whom they took 4 of 6 against last year, and be off to the races in the second round. But again, that’s all only in hindsight, and the Pens were chasing the Presidents trophy and the Division Championship until game 78. I expect Fleury to continue on his regular season pace from last year, and this year he will be literally reaching his peak performance at the start of the playoffs. Most importantly the pressure of a world class guy like Vokoun clamoring for playing time will mean that Fleury has to do the job, and if he doesn’t then the Pens will turn to goaltender 1b.
- M: I will write this here and now: I think that this has been the most impactful signing of the offseason in the Eastern Conference. Vokoun, coming off of a contentious season in Washington, has seen better days. But lest we forget how many times Vokoun we’ve cursed Vokoun for incredible saves (see?) Look at it this way: he’s here to push Fleury and not cost the Pens 16 precious point in the process.) A rested and confident Fleury is a great Fleury.
- A: On this point I completely agree. Playing 48 games in a little more than 3 months is going to be tough. And the Pens will have to go back-to-back 14 times to squeeze in those games. If there was one position that I had hoped the Pens would upgrade last year during the trade deadline it was the backup goalie spot–as Mike pointed out, Fleury was called into action in all but 15 games, way too many. There should be no such issue this year, Brent Johnson was a -7.6 GGVT, or in other words he cost the Penguins at least 7 games last year, an impressive figure given that he only played 16 games. By comparison Tomas Vokoun was a plus 9.0 GGVT, or in other words a little BETTER than MAF. There’s no doubt that last year was contentious for Vokoun, and although he wasn’t as good as he has been in some years past, he was still virtually the same as MAF in all the vital stats. A lot of people feel that Vokoun could actually take the job away from MAF. I don’t know if that’s especially true, but there should be literally no problem getting quality starts (less than 3.00 GAA) from either of these goalies so long as they keep their health (touch wood).
IN THE WINGS:
- M: I think Theissen needs experience. Develop him a little more and you’ve got a real solid goaltender. He does a great job sliding to deny Kessel on the one-timer, but doesn’t realize the rebound is miles away. He’s 26, but I think he should pay off into at least a super dependable backup. Evidence:
- A: Maybe a dependable AHL backup, which is all the more he is now. I really don’t understand where people are getting the notion that Thiessen is a good goalie. Sure, 2 years ago Thiessen was THE BEST goalie in the AHL, but since then he’s pretty much fallen off the edge of the world. In the AHL last year Thiessen posted a pathetic .887 save percentage. So far this year, with 8 fewer games than Zatkoff he’s only managed to improve to a .904 save percentage, less than the league average. And all of this is to say nothing about his comatose .858 save percentage in the NHL last year. Yes I understand that he posted a 3-1 record in the five games he played, but that was solely a result of the Pens defense and coaching staff sheltering him by allowing fewer shots against, and only playing him against the lesser half of the league. Even at that he managed a -4.7 GGVT, which suggests that he should have cost the Pens all of the games that he played, he didn’t but that has more to do with his sheltering, and the Pens’ impressive offensive prowess and less with Thiessen’s abilities.
- M: I don’t know much about this dude. But if his in-game presence is any indicator of his talent, I like him. He’s pretty poor in the Shootout, but the rest of the video is him robbing that Sens team. Nice. 25.
- A: I can’t pretend to know much about him either but realistically speaking I see Zatkoff as the number 3 goalie this year. As Mike has pointed out, he’s younger and perhaps more aware than Thiessen has ever been. He is the reigning best goalie in the AHL and has been handling most of the starts in WB/S this year. Although his .911 save percentage isn’t off the charts, his 2.21 GAA is almost half a goal per game better than Thiessen’s so far this year.