Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Penguins After Ten Games: Part I, The Goalies

The Penguins blew a 3-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night and lost 5-3. After ten games they have a record of 5-4-1 and 11 points. Over the next three days I'll break down their performance through the first ten by position.

You've heard me argue countless times that a goalie in hockey has more impact on a sporting event than any other player. The Penguins are exhibit A. They have had one goalie playing spectacularly well and one who has been bad. The problem is it's the cheap backup that's been great and the franchise goalie that has been borderline terrible.

Marc-Andre Fleury is making $5 million this year and is signed through 2014. He's 25, he's won a Stanley Cup and he has taken the Penguins to the finals another time. But, Fleury had a bad second half last year and was terrible in the second round playoff loss to the Canadiens. This year, believe it or not he's been worse. Of goalies who have started at least four games he ranks 34th out of 37 in goals against average at 3.41 and his save percentage of .861 is 36th. Fleury has given up at least three goals in each of his five starts, his record stands at 1-4 and he has given up a goal in the first six minutes of his last three starts, the first shot in his last two. More importantly, MAF has rarely come up with the big save, something he did repeatedly during the team's run to the Cup. While he hasn't been responsible for many of the goals he's given up, he isn't making any key saves at key moments and he's given up some soft ones, particularly in game two against Montreal, that have cost his team the game.

The season is too long and the Penguins have too much invested in Fleury to relegate him to the bench, but at the moment he hasn't earned his ice time. With 72 games left I have no problem with Bylsma sitting Fleury for an extended period, or at least until the other guy cools off.

The other guy is "backup" Brent Johnson. The Penguins signed Johnson before the 2009-10 season and he performed admirably filling in for Fleury last year. He appeared in 23 games and posted a 10-6-1 record with a 2.76 GAA and .906 save percentage. In the offseason the Penguins signed Johnson to a new, below-market two-year deal at $600,000/year. Johnson liked being in Pittsburgh and at age 33 liked the security of the two year deal. He knew his role, proved more than capable of playing well while only playing sporadically and was excellent in the locker room. It was a good fit for both sides.

At the moment Johnson's contract is proving to be the biggest bargain in hockey. In his five starts he's 4-0-1 with a 1.39 GAA (2nd in the league)  and a .951 save percentage (3rd). He has yet to give up more than two goals in any game and the only blemish on his record is a 1-0 overtime loss at St. Louis his last time out. Four of his five starts have come on the road and three of his seven goals against have come during the opposing team's power play.

The rap against Johnson is that he isn't an everyday goalie. He has really only been a number one in one of his eleven NHL seasons and that was back in 2001-2002 with the St. Louis Blues. That was also the only season he's appeared in more than 40 games. Johnson style is a little more upright than Fleury and at 6' 3" he covers a lot of the net. He squares up exceptionally well to the shooter and he rarely finds himself scrambling to get back into position as we have seen so often with MAF the past two years. He certainly has earned his ice time.

There is no question who the Penguins' better goalie is at the moment. The concern of the coaching staff and front office has to be how to get Fleury back up to the high level of play that he demonstrated two years ago. In the meantime it's time for him to take a back seat to one of the hottest goalies in the league. There is plenty of time to have Fleury work on his game and get him ready by the playoffs. In the meantime the Penguins owe it to Johnson and the eighteen skaters in front of him to put him out there starting tomorrow night at home against the Flyers. If Johnson and the Pens win that one Bylsma should bring him right back at Carolina Saturday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury: F
Brent Johnson: A


Pants said...

Tough to argue with the numbers....MAF did come up with two great saves last night (penalty shot and point blank redirect by St. Louis), but also let in two that probably should have been stopped (1st and 2nd). The physical telent is still there but the mental focus for 60 minutes has been inconsistient at best since half way through last season. Pens are tied for 6th in the league in goals for/game, so it isn't the offense. Give it 6-8 more weeks and then bring in a new goaltending coach to change his mindset.

How about those new 3rd jerseys? Or the female reporter staring at Stall's crotch in the promo pictures (pic 10 of 17).

The Hammer said...

Funny stuff on the reporter. Yea, I think you hit the nail on the end when talking about Fleury give 60 good, focused minutes. It just hasn't been there.