Let the Flame Wars Begin

MAF

Vokoun

The incredibly impatient Pittsburgh sports population is in the midst of a crisis, Tomas Vokoun, the Pens’ largest off season acquisition has done exactly what we have always predicted he would do: play well. That coupled with one horrific outing from Marc Andre Fleury has the town on the brink of open rebellion. After the jump we examine the pros and cons of each man and why the whole concept is utterly lame.

I admit that I have found myself thoroughly entrenched in a flame war regarding the goaltending situation for the Pens. If you didn’t see this coming you must have never seen Tomas Vokoun play goalie before. He is a gamer and he is a legitimate challenge to MAF’s undisputed reign as starting goalie. I think I’ve used this expression before, but if the best way to characterize MAF is that all he does is win games, all Vokoun does is stop pucks.

Vokoun isn’t a flashy goalie. In fact he looks so composed and calm, he often looks truly boring. That was the case yesterday, Vokoun’s shutout was probably the most unassuming affair I’ve ever seen. He got a couple lucky posts in the effort, but you have to be lucky to be good. You can say that the posts were blind luck, but the fact of the matter is that Vokoun has positioning down to a science, I’m not saying he positioned the puck off the post, but he took away open space, thus forcing a puck beyond the 4×6 parameters.

This stands in contrast to MAF’s game. What he lacks in vision and positioning he makes up for with athleticism. And that’s why he has come up with some world class heroics, most notably late in the day on June 12, 2009.

And its right here that people start to diverge. Nobody is ever going to forget what MAF did that night, but don’t let those few sprawling saves color Fleury in rose-colored hues. Here’s a really obvious truth about Fleury, he’s not a future hall of famer. He’s a slightly above average goalie who will be most famous for being the only goalie drafted first overall in league history.

Over his career he’s won a lot of games, and he’s going to win some more before it’s all said and done. He won a Cup and he undoubtedly led the team through the hell that was life without Sid AND Geno. But there are two sides to every coin and here is what Timo Seppa, the godfather of advanced hockey stats, has to say about MAF:

Actually, Fleury’s career save percentage of .909 is below average for a starter, and his .904 postseason mark is even worse. So, in fact, he is below average, and not “clutch”. Even in the 2009 championship run, Fleury managed only 12 Quality Starts in 24 attempts en route to a .908 save percentage; the Penguins rescued four of the non-Quality Starts.

Neither goalie is perfect: Fleury has performed below the league average more times than he’s been above it. Vokoun, if you count his OT losses is 289-342-35 in his career, but together they have the opportunity to be devastating. And that’s where our viewpoint rests: you’ve gotta play whoever has the hot hand. And obviously right now that’s Vokoun. Maybe the Pens have insulated better with Vokoun in net (they haven’t, actually right now both Fleury and Vokoun have played in 4 games and each have seen exactly 100 shots apiece) but the numbers speak for themselves, Vokoun: .940 save percentage, Fleury: .890.

Further the precedent exists that Fleury often makes his best comebacks after sitting for a few games. Remember the 2010-11 season? Fleury started horribly, the Pens played Brent Frickin’ Johnson like 5 games in a row. And on the first start where Johnson faltered Fleury rose, and he didn’t look back ultimately recording his lowest career GAA, 2.32.

So why not take it in, go with the flow? The Pens need wins, right now Vokoun has the hot hand. Let Fleury work through his stuff and then hope to reap the rewards of two great goalies playing at the top of their game. You don’t need to make the Penguins situation into a “controversy,” there’s nothing controversial about it. The Pens, like the Blackhawks in 2010, like the Bruins in 2011, and like most perennial contenders now have a goaltending TANDEM. Lap it up and may the best man win.

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