The Curious Case of Marc-Andre Fleury

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You knew it was coming, what you probably don’t know is the conclusion that is still percolating in my brain as I begin this piece. By this point both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero have weighed in on Fleury’s future and it certainly seems like he will play out at least the remainder of his current contract in Pittsburgh. And that is probably for the best.

You could blame me for being easily susceptible to suggestion but after reading the following two articles my hardline stance on Fleury is changing. We start with the master Mike Colligan, as usual he stepped up with a far better piece than anyone else could write about what happened to the Penguins and what the franchise should look to do now moving forward. One line really sticks out:

At age 37, Vokoun won’t be able to handle the demands of a full 82-game season and should be the backup — even if the over-the-top comments from Bylsma were a little out of line.

I don’t know, I’ve ignored that excuse in the past, and maybe it is just because of my unhealthy appreciation for Colligan, but his comments triggered for me something that former contributor Andrew pointed out to me over the weekend: Vokoun’s starts have been decreasing for 4 straight years.

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Good goalies tend to be able to play into their very late 30s or early 40s at a high rate, and Vokoun, once and for all and long overdo, has proven himself a good goaltender, but even with that said, in the best of circumstances he would need to platoon his games, you can’t call on him to make 70 appearances next year, and if the Penguins don’t have a proven NHLer to back him up, it is impossible to predict what would happen.

The second piece that has influenced my thinking on Fleury comes from Seth Rorabaugh, he summed up the role of Vokoun and Fleury playing together as such:

The Penguins platooned Vokoun and Fleury this past season over a shortened 48-game schedule. That resulted in them merely being the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. (Emphasis is his)

Maybe, just maybe, the Penguins actually do need Marc-Andre Fleury. They need a proven commodity to shoulder the weight of the regular season. I do not view the Penguins goaltending situation as particularly dire: I’m interested in seeing what Jeff Zatkoff really has at the NHL level and Eric Hartzell could prove to be a quality long-range project, if he comes back to the organization. But those guys aren’t ready to make crucial starts against division rivals for a team that has expectations of winning their division, winning the conference, and more.

Since Fleury’s seeming demotion before Game 5 of the Conference Quarterfinals the excuse I have given for trading him is that so many teams need a goaltender that can merely get them into the playoffs that they would take Fleury without worrying about whether he can play IN the playoffs or not. And maybe that’s what the Penguins need to do as well. We as fans need to accept that Fleury has never let us down in the regular season. We need a guy that can make 50-60 starts a year, finish 95% of the games he starts and be a team player. I have no doubt that MAF would be able to fulfill that better than most players.

Now with that said, it would still be completely unacceptable for the Penguins to ignore what Tomas Vokoun has done for them over the past year. It’s one thing to say that Vokoun merely outplayed Fleury in net during the playoffs. It’s another to say that he was the Penguins’ best player, which in most games he really was. You have to give him the opportunity to succeed and compete for his playing time. But as it stands, there’s not too much I can say that will be sufficiently different from this piece I wrote just before the playoffs started.

At this time Vokoun is absolutely the more well-known commodity. He’s going to play well, regardless of the circumstance. What we also know about him though is that he has a history of injuries, he’s 37, and he understands what his role is with the Penguins. Given those considerations maybe MAF is a little more valuable to the Penguins than we give him credit for.

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When You Point the Finger, Evaluating Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero

dan-bylsma-glareIn the mainstream media everyone has already decided on their scapegoat, Dan Bylsma, and at least in their arguments they seem to have plenty of good cause: 4 years of elimination at the hands of a lower-seeded opponent, the first Penguins coach to be swept in the playoffs in 34 years, a losing record in the postseason since his historic 2009 Cup win. But they are decidedly wrong. If you had wanted to pick this fight with me last year or the previous two years I wouldn’t have argued, but the problem against Boston was not a failure of coaching, it was a failure of the players to listen, or to CARE to execute.  And that’s all fine and dandy, but if you ask me, you have to go up another level to find the culprit behind this collapse.

Yes, in fact, I am talking about Ray Shero. The architect of the most talent laden roster since the inception of the salary cap is the guy that I think is most culpable for this team’s collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals (if you can ever collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals, even if you’re swept and get outscored 12-2, I mean you’re still one of the four best teams in the league right?). And here’s why: he overspent his hand. Now, here us out, we’re not going to pretend that Shero should be fired, and we’re definitely not saying that he hasn’t made some amazing moves: just think about where the Pens would have been if he hadn’t made a move on the “washed up” Tomas Vokoun. But when it comes right down to it, answer yourself this, did his deadline moves work? If you answer yes you must be a Bruins fan. Get the explanation after the jump.  Read the rest of this entry »


Go Go Black and Gold: Goaltenders

As with the Senators series we want to take a look at the head to head matchups between the positions for both the Pens and B’s. We will start with goaltending which is easily the hardest thing to discuss.

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For the Penguins, Tomas Vokoun has just been good. He’s been solid, but he hasn’t been spectacular. That he makes the saves that you expect has done wonders for the team and the team has supported him with quality play. The biggest critique of Vokoun has been his rebound control. And that’s fair, sometimes he’s great at diverting the puck to the corner boards, sometimes he leaves them just feet from the net. With the “Big Bad Bruins” coming to town you have to wonder if that will be problematic for the Pens. In his final start of the regular season Vokoun earned his 300th career win against the Bruins. In that game Voki played a gem. If he can continue that, the Pens won’t have too much to complain about.

The biggest issue that Vokoun will likely have to deal with is the continued media dialog over Marc-Andre Fleury. We’ve tried to be fairly mum about the whole thing but with even master Mike Colligan getting in on the act you almost have to feel Vokoun might be due for that one let down game that will open the floodgates of debate and might even see MAF return to the starting lineup. Or maybe he’ll successfully block it out and or thrive on it, and that will be the end of that.

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Tuukka Rask is far more perplexing.  Whereas it’s fair to assume that Vokoun will play a simple, good, brand of hockey, Rask tends to be all over the place: in the ECSF Rask made quite a few ten bell saves. He was more or less a solid wall that the Rangers were unable to solve. Against the Maple Leafs, however, Rask got exploited for 4 GAA twice. No question the Rangers lack of offense should not be overlooked but Rask’s play has been hit or miss at best.

Bottom line: From a numbers point of view Vokoun honestly gets, and more importantly deserves, the advantage. He’s 6-1 in his seven starts so far this postseason and has posted the second best save percentage among all goalies that have played this postseason, regardless of games. As with everything though, the weight of expectations both for Voki’s continued good play and for his eventual let down make this match up a little more even than it first seems. No question he’s been a model player through the first 7 games of his Penguins postseason, he’s just done the job and done it well. But there will always be questions so although he holds an advantage, it is slim.


Stud of the Week 05/14/13

We didn’t do Stud of the Week last week because nobody deserved it. This week there are several options so we won’t waste your time.

Evgeni Malkin: he ends the first round of play with 11 points, just under 2 PPG. And he hasn’t been very good. He looks injured, or tired, or something. But with the pressure on in Game 6 he took charge. He turned a 1-on-4 into a game-tying goal. Then he did it again in OT, in the process of making Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik into legends, let’s sit back and watch…

Tyler Kennedy: last Tuesday Mike and I were standing in my kitchen and we convinced ourselves that TK couldn’t do anything to help this team, that he was good at providing energy but the Pens needed defensive help or more offense, something outside of TK’s skill set. We were wrong. His goal in Game 5 changed the world. It’s been way too long since we’ve seen anything like it. He created a forecheck almost all by himself once he cracked the lineup and he really looks smart and composed. Hard to imagine any circumstance by which he comes out of the lineup. Oh and don’t forget he actually has the primary assist on Orpik’s game winner.

There can only be one Stud though and this should settle any debate as to who it is…

Tomas Vokoun: there is no question that this series looks a lot different without Vokoun’s arrival in Game 5. Whether his presence forced the team to realize what it had done, or whether the team subconsciously enters a more defensive posture with the less athletic Vokoun in net, it literally doesn’t matter. What matters is that Vokoun saved the Pens’ bacon.

He’s a calming presence, there’s no let down with Vokoun. He knows his responsibility and he does it. And before you attack Vokoun playing well because of his team in front of him, he still had to face 69 shots in two games. And he just made the saves. We always turn back to Jaro Halak in 2010, and the similarities to Vokoun. Halak ended up leading the Canadiens to the Conference Finals that year, but in that offseason the Canadiens decided, in no uncertain terms, that Carey Price was going to be their franchise goalie. The same thing can happen here.

Right now the Penguins are playing for the right to have their names immortalized on a big silver chalice. You have to play the guys who are the most hungry for that. That’s why Joe Vitale and Tyler Kennedy are in the lineup, they want it. That’s why Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla chose to come to Pittsburgh, they want it. I can’t fathom what else Tomas Vokoun would have to do to prove himself the hungriest of the two options? Everyone always complained that the Pens were misusing Simon Despres in the regular season, and Coach Dan always countered that  by saying he hadn’t earned his place in the lineup. What has MAF done to earn a spot in the lineup tonight? Something that happened 4 years ago? And that’s why Tomas Vokoun is the Stud of the Week.


Coming in Hot: Pens/Sens, Goaltending

The Penguins probably raised the bar for how poorly a team can play in an elimination game and still come away with a win. That’s the bad news. Which means that there is a lot of good news. Nobody ever said that you have to win pretty in the playoffs, all that matters is that the Pens have 4 wins against the Islanders, they will get the opportunity to continue the quest for a fourth Stanley Cup. And in the next round the Pens get the Ottawa Senators. Here is a brief recounting of the facts of the Pens versus the Senators.

All-time series record: It’s hard to remember but the Senators have only been around (as this franchise) for 20 years. In that time the teams have met 85 times, with the Penguins leading overall 48 (with 9 OT/Shootout wins since 2005)-31-6 (ties). The teams have met for three series in the playoffs and the Pens have taken 2 out of those 3. They hold a 9-7 record in those games. Fun fact: the last time the Penguins won a game in OT to clinch a series before Saturday came against the Senators in 2010.

You can count on Anderson to tote the rock

You can count on Anderson to tote the rock

Goaltending: Craig Anderson is a rock. Had he not missed a large percentage of the season he would have run away with the Vezina trophy and that’s a fact. He posted a save percentage over .940, which is insane over a season, and his 1.69 GAA was more than a quarter of a point better than any other starter in the league. In his lifetime Anderson has posted average (by his standards) numbers against the Penguins: 4-4-2 with a .919 S% and 2.48 GAA. At it’s surface this will be the biggest strength for the Senators over the Penguins. There’s no question who their guy is, and he’s among the best.

MAF CAN be the franchise goalie, even when he's sitting in deference to his hotter counterpart, think Carey Price in 2010.

MAF CAN be the franchise goalie, even when he’s sitting in deference to his hotter counterpart, think Carey Price in 2010.

As for the Penguins, before Game 6 we would have been open, if not in favor, to playing MAF in game one of this series. There is a lot that suggests MAF has an especial problem with the first round, and that with any luck at all MAF would find his game in time for the second. But there can be absolutely no question whatsoever that Tomas Vokoun stole Game 6 for the Penguins, when’s the last time that happened for the Penguins? I can vaguely recall some moments in 2008 and 2009, certainly the last few moments of Game 7 in 2009, if not the entire game, but certainly not since then. 2010 against the Canadiens was bad, in 2011 MAF played okay, he didn’t get blown up, but when the team needed him to make one more save, he couldn’t do it, and then there was last year, you almost saw the same thing repeated by the Islanders this year, the team was competitive, but they couldn’t get any save, and they had no alternative to turn to. That’s why the Penguins brought in Tomas Vokoun, and that’s why you stick with him until he proves he can’t do it.

Vokoun has to be your #1 right now...

Vokoun has to be your #1 right now…

The most common retort we’ve seen so far to return to MAF is that you know if he’s still struggling you can turn back to Vokoun, what you don’t know is, if Vokoun should struggle, can you expect MAF to pick up the load. That’s nonsense, you know how Vokoun is playing and if he should start to fail the Penguins in a bigtime way there is probably no easy fix. Simply put, if the team in front of him WILL play well, Vokoun isn’t going to struggle. He’s not going to get the brain fade that has killed MAF in recent playoffs, he’ll be solid throughout and that’s really all you can ask. There’s no more question here, at least for now.

Bottom line: the Senators have the advantage here, but it mostly has to do with the fact that they have a clear picture. If the Ottawa media will prove to be a liability to the Senators (as they were on April 22) then the Pittsburgh media could be a liability for continuing to wage a public war of words on the goaltending situation.


Tomas Vokoun is in for Game 5

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No surprise for us here. MAF has been just awful. By no means is he the only problem on this team at this time, and we would never pretend that he is, but you can only play so many playoff games in a row BELOW AVERAGE before you get benched. And here’s the facts: in the last two playoff series MAF has given up an insane 40 goals in 10 games, since 2009 he hasn’t even come close to a .900 save percentage in the playoffs, he’s been fighting the puck all day every day, and he’s been culpable to more “soft” goals than we can count.

And yesterday was the final straw. Really Game 6 of the 2012 Conference Quarterfinals was the last straw, as far as the Penguins trusting in Fleury explicitly went. That’s why they brought Tomas Vokoun in at a not cheap $2.5 million/year (for a little perspective, excepting the two next most expensive back ups put together, Martin Biron and Peter Budaj, Vokoun’s deal is worth more than any two “back ups” in the Eastern Conference Playoffs combined) deal in the offseason. From the moment he came to Pittsburgh we here at Reggie’s House have always viewed him as a “1a” type option, our belief was that he could be the second half of potentially one of the best goaltending tandems in the whole league. Minus a couple of meaningless games in mid-February, Vokoun has held up his end of the bargain. So well in fact that we felt the need to write in favor of his continued play during the playoffs. In that piece we made one tragic faux pas. We claimed that in 2008 Chris Osgood played the entire postseason and was occasionally spelled by Dominik Hasek. We were wrong: Hasek started the first four games (which the Wings split 2-2 with the 8th seeded Stars) before turning to the venerable Osgood. I think that worked okay for them. By no means do we promise the same success this year, but it can’t hurt.

Game 5 is the right time for Vokoun to start a game. He doesn’t enter with all the pressure of elimination, it will be on friendly home ice,  he’s got a couple days to prepare, and as we always say when it comes to contracts: better to move on a little early than a little late.

As to what happens with MAF from here: the rest of this series is Vokoun’s. Personally I wouldn’t be opposed to running with Vokoun until he drops two in a row, whether that should be in this series or if it should be in the conference finals. I could concede possibly giving the first game of the next round (if the Pens can make it there) to MAF, but chances are pretty good that IF the Pens advance, Vokoun will likely have played pretty well, thus complicating that argument. It’s impossible to say what could happen after that.

And what happens if Vokoun struggles? Well, then the Pens as you know them now will cease to exist. The best thing that could happen for MAF is that Vokoun does play well, if he doesn’t then we would say it’s a certainty that MAF and his $5.25 million/year would get bought out. Bylsma will be gone, and you have to wonder if either Kris Letang and or Geno would get traded as well. We sure hope that doesn’t happen.

We know, we know Fleury has not been the whole problem. We have repeatedly stated that the Pens D has been way too soft and given way too much respect to the Islanders forwards. In order to help with that we’ve said that the Pens’ forwards need to backcheck a lot better. And Tuesday’s game highlighted the failure of the Pens’ forecheck too. But you can’t bench the whole team. You can bench the goaltender, you can do that to send a message to the rest of the team. Fleury hasn’t earned the moniker as “THE Go-To Guy,” if you think he has you’re still living in 2009, and that’s a shame because Twitter is really cool.


The Curious Case of Tomas Vokoun

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The Penguins have injury problems. Although many of the guys are only day to day and would be playing if it were the playoffs, it’s impossible not to look at the all star team that the Penguins are missing at this time.

In light of the injuries the Pens have continued to do what they do: win. And in no small part that comes down to Tomas Vokoun. He absolutely stood on his head against Boston and he replicated it with 34 saves on 35 shots against Ottawa. I’m not going to pretend that Vokoun has been the better goalie this year, but my position is that he’s been far more than a “number 2” goalie with the Penguins. At the end of the win streak Dejan published this profound feel good story about Vokoun’s role in turning around the Penguins’ season, so I know I’m not alone.

As of last night Vokoun became the 28th goaltender in the entire history of the NHL to win his 300th career game. That’s pretty elite company. And I have a pretty good feeling that few of the other 27 three hundred game winners did it for so many years on crap teams like Vokoun did. Read the rest of this entry »