Marc-Andre Fleury or Tomas Vokoun. That’s the decision that Dan Bylsma has to make before tomorrow’s game one against Ottawa. This is a vitally important choice, but it may not be as difficult as some are indicating.
The Penguins sat through two-straight first round exits in which Marc-Andre Fleury just wasn’t good enough for them (particularly last year). Their first round series with the Islanders was heading off the tracks before Vokoun was inserted and notched a pair of wins that sent the Penguins into the second round. However, Fleury is Pittsburgh’s five million dollar man while Vokoun is the emergency chute signed last summer as insurance for the Pens’ Cup winning netminder.
This year’s flame out marked the third-straight first round series in which Fleury’s save percentage didn’t rise above .900. It also gives Fleury 57 goals against (on 453 shots) over just 17 games these past three years. Vokoun has only played a pair of games behind the Penguins this post season but the solution for Blysma should be simple; play the hot hand.
When it comes to goaltending the key is playing the goalie who gives your team the best opportunity to win. As of right now, Fleury is not that player for the Penguins. Some debate will proceed over what a prolonged benching will do for his psyche but I wouldn’t be concerned with that currently. This is a team that served up a hefty ransom to obtain a trio of deadline pieces that would elevate them to a Cup Finals appearance. If Vokoun gives this cast the best opportunity to win then it shouldn’t matter who he’s replacing.
There is no reason to spin yourself (as the hypothetical Penguins’ bench boss) in circles over hurting Fleury’s psyche or starting a backup. Just like Vizzini, don’t overanalyze. Vokoun has just won your team two hockey games and is playing with confidence. Fleury was nothing short of a tire fire in three of those games and didn’t show any signs of improving. Sure the Penguins could go back to Fleury, but I’m not sure if they want to.
The only true precedent for such action came in 2006 when the Hurricanes entered the playoffs with Martin Gerber as their starter, went to Cam Ward after two games in the first round and subsequently flip-flopped on a starter all the way through to the Cup Finals.
Of course the 2006 example is slightly skewed since it ultimately served as Ward’s coming out party as a starting goaltender and pushed Gerber out of Carolina. However the logic is there. Gerber wasn’t winning games for the Hurricanes and the net was turned over to Ward. Yet the Canes weren’t afraid to go back to Gerber (who got them a key shutout win in the Conference Finals) before finally settling on Ward to guide them to the Cup. Whether or not a goalie who didn’t start the playoffs or earn the faith of his coach throughout deserves the Conn Smythe is an entirely different argument.
Unless Vokoun loses both games in shocking fashion he’ll likely be in net for game three as well. The luxury here is that the Penguins have the opportunity to go back to Fleury if necessary. Any damage done to Fleury’s ego was done by his play, the benching may be the cherry on top but it certainly isn’t the whole sundae. Much like with the Canes in 06, the Pens could throw Fleury back into the fire if falters badly enough. And they could do so with the confidence that Fleury can tend goal at a level of an average NHL goaltender. Well, hopefully.
Vokoun has earned the right to start the first two games against the Senators and there’s no reason not to start him.