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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Shaken, Rattled, And Rolled

If anyone remembers the run that the Pittsburgh Penguins went on when they captured the Stanley Cup, the man who was key in that run was Marc-Andre Fleury. Since that time, I'm not so sure that he's a reason to believe that the Penguins are a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs in any year. After watching him die against the Flyers, it feels like that Fleury has returned to Pittsburgh. The New York Islanders have decimated Fleury's confidence once more just as the Flyers did, and it might be time for head coach Dan Bylsma to show why Ray Shero signed Tomas Vokoun as an insurance policy in the off-season.

Fleury will undoubtedly want the next start to show that he's not in some fragile state. But if I'm Dan Bylsma, I believe Fleury has to sit because of what his play is doing to his teammates. Far too often in tonight's game and in this series did Fleury have a teammate in the crease with him. Far too often in this series has he allowed a soft goal, prompting his teammates in front of him to do more in trying to stop pucks from reaching the net. It's this lack of confidence seen in his teammates and seen in himself that Fleury should be on the bench for Game Five.

As a Penguins fan, it's hard for me to watch Fleury flounder in the blue ice like he had against the Flyers and as he is against the Islanders. We have seen his ability and know he's capable of not only winning important games, but winning a Stanley Cup. But it almost looks like he's unsure of himself in the net when he's playing, and far too often he's guessing at shots rather than reacting to the shots he's facing. He's shaken, he's rattled, and the Penguins get rolled when Fleury plays as he did tonight.

Tomas Vokoun did have pretty solid numbers in the regular season, and they were comparable, if not better, than Fleury's numbers. He went 13-4-0 compared to Fleury's 23-8-0. Vokoun had a 2.45 GAA compared to Fleury's 2.39 GAA, but Vokoun's .919 save percentage was higher than Fleury's mark of .916. Vokoun backstopped three shutouts to Fleury's one clean scoresheet. Clearly, by putting Vokoun in the net, you're not losing anything tangible when it comes to the numbers.

What you gain, though, is something that every team needs: solid veteran goaltending. While Vokoun hasn't started a playoff game since 2007 when he was with the Nashville Predators, he's still a steadying presence behind a defence that occasionally looks unsure of what they need to do around their net. As long as Vokoun makes saves, the defence should start playing with more confidence, and that will allow their breakout game and transition game to flourish once more.

I'm not sure that Bylsma can wait on this decision. After all, the Penguins have taken early exits in each of their last three seasons, so the pressure is mounting on him after Ray Shero basically gave him an all-star team to work with as they entered the playoffs. Ray Shero, after signing Vokoun to a two-year deal, stated,
"This is to help Marc-Andre. It's to help his game. We still believe in Marc-Andre Fleury. He's one of the better goalies in the League. But the position is demanding, both physically and mentally. If you can get a quality guy like this that has a track record like Tomas has, mentally it will give Marc a break, but it also challenges him. It challenges Tomas as well. This is the best goaltending tandem we've had in a long time."
If you just take the "This is to help Marc-Andre. It's to help his game" portion of the quotation, now is the time to turn to Vokoun. Now is the time to allow Fleury to piece together the shattered confidence he's currently dealing with in order to better the team. Now is the time to send Vokoun to the blue ice for Game Five... and possibly longer.

If head coach Dan Bylsma had little faith in former backup netminder Brent Johnson, turning to Vokoun should be easy. This is a man who was excellent against the Red Wings in the playoffs in 2004 in winning two of six games, including a shutout, off the Detroit Red Wings. He has extensive international experience, and has a number of accolades attributed to him on the international stage. It's not like he can't step in and play a big game.

The Penguins have to get back to playing their game at home in Game Five if they want to advance to the second round of the playoffs. They cannot, however, play that game when Fleury is struggling to make routine saves, forcing the entire team to play a different style of game to make up for his shortcomings in the pipes.

Shero signed Vokoun for a reason. Now is the time to use him.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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