Penguins Goalie Drama: Blessing in Disguise?
After the last three games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 1 seed vs. 8 seed match, you’d understand why many would be calling for a goalie switch. The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the most offensively talented team in the NHL and they can score goals; there’s not much Evgeni Nabokov can do about that. Although he hasn’t been perfect, he’d been solid for the Isles who find themselves tied at 2 games a piece with the best team in the East. So where does that lead the other starting goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury?
The Flower, as he’s known in Pittsburgh, has been through every type of whirlwind a goalie can go through at this point in the season. He owns the record books for the Penguins, he won a Stanley Cup in 2009 and was a huge part of the success that team had. But he also was horrible in the 2012 playoffs vs. the Flyers and in his last 10 playoff starts, he’s allowed 40 goals (remember, he pitched a shutout one week ago) meaning that he’s given up 40 goals in 9 starts. It doesn’t matter that you have two of the best hockey players in the world, league leading goal scorers, Norris Trophy finalists, future hall-of-famers, rookie sensations: none of that means anything if you don’t have a consistent goalie in the crease to keep you in games. When the Pens were at their best this season, they weren’t allowing teams so score. In the final 11 games of their 15 game winning streak, they gave up only 9 goals total (Tomas Vokoun started 5 of those games including 2 shutouts and a streak of over 160 minutes of scoreless hockey).
Unlike last year, the Pens have a back-up they can turn to and that’s what Coach Bylsma is doing.
“We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us and be a goaltender we can count on to go in and play big games,” Bylsma said.
So it’ll be Vokoun in-between the pipes for game 5. Vokoun has been quiet but one must believe that he’ll be ready. After winning 25 games a year ago in Washington, he watched as rookie Braden Holtby came in and stole his job. Vokoun hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2007 and has just 3 playoff wins. But, the Pittsburgh organization believes in him. He’s a seasoned veteran who dominated the Isles during the regular season winning all 3 starts. He’s a previous all-star goalie, Olympic medal winning goalie (2006 Bronze) and he’s ready to prove himself in the playoffs.
It’s not as if all the blame for games 2 and 4 losses fall on the Flower, he’s had little help from his d-men and the entire Pens team have had a terrible time with puck management and their turnovers have led to goals for the Isles. But the mental psyche of Fleury is shaken and that game 4 loss could be a blessing in disguise. Vokoun has had the better numbers vs. the Isles this season and since 2010, Fleury has had a world of trouble getting out of the first round. Hockey is all about match-ups and if the Pens can make it out of round one, they will most likely be matched up with the Senators, whom Fleury was very strong against in the regular season.
Best case scenario: Let Vokoun win game 5 and game 6; he’s ready and the defense will be better for him. The Pens win the series and then Fleury comes back ready to rock and roll, a new start. Fleury gets his mojo back from 2009 and the Pens surge.
Worst case scenario: Vokoun is rusty and the defense continues turning the puck over. Isles speed proves to be to much and New York pulls the monumental upset and the the Penguins first round exits continue.
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The Hockey Guy