What We Learned: Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the problem with perception
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
It has never once been said that hockey pundits are ones to give up their long-held beliefs.
Things like wins still matter a lot when it comes to Vezina voting, people still believe most careers were failures unless the player won a Stanley Cup, and the idea that a player can be "clutch" is still valued more than anything else once the postseason rolls around.
Case in point: Marc-Andre Fleury.
All we heard in the run-up to the playoffs was that the Flyers and Penguins were more or less each others' equals as far as the forwards and defense were concerned, and that the difference was in net. Ilya Bryzgalov: Fragile goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury: Big-game goalie. The Penguins, therefore, would win this series, even if it wouldn't be easy.
And now we sit here, nine-plus periods of hockey having been played between these two bitter rivals, and Fleury has been nothing short of shambolic. The stats don't speak for themselves so much as they roar from the mountaintops that this is a goaltender who's in so far over his head that the Roberto Luongo who faced the Blackhawks those few times looks as mentally secure as Fort Knox by comparison.
As netminders go, Fleury has been the worst in these playoffs by several country miles. He's the only one to start all three games and not earn a win (that's for all you old-schoolers out there). The worst save percentage of anyone. Worst goals-against average of anyone.
(Coming Up: Pekka Rinne is OK; James Neal is a punk; the Blues bench breaks; a way to get PK Subban to Edmonton; Bruins stars invisible vs. Capitals; Tortorella doesn't go crazy; huge off-season for Colorado; why Brent Sutter left; will Jackets go for Murray at No. 2?; Wild, Fletcher work on deal; Claude Noel's odd conversation with fan; Mike Green doesn't feel well; and why Canada's getting ready to cry.)
His current save percentage is .798, the lowest of any goaltender to make at least three appearances in a playoff since Jim Carey's worst-ever .744 in 97 minutes in 1996. Currently, his save percentage is bottom-5 ever. His current GAA is 6.34, the second-worst all-time among that same group behind Greg Stefan's 7.39 for Detroit in 1985.
You can chalk at least a good portion of that up to the Penguins' defensive systems completely breaking down in the thoroughest manner imaginable, but at the same time, he is redefining Cloutier-type softies we're used to seeing in the playoffs for a new generation.
How much longer before there are beach balls Photoshopped behind him?
And certainly, this must come as a shock to anyone who entered these playoffs considered Fleury as anything more than a slightly-above-average goaltender playing behind a typically-strong defensive team. Of course, even Fleury's biggest detractors would not have predicted, well, anything like this. But the signs that he's by no means a Great Big-Game Goaltender have been around for years.
If you looked at any of his postseasons at random, the odds are you wouldn't want your goaltender putting up numbers like that. Yes, he was spectacular in the Penguins' run to a Game-7 loss to Detroit in 2007-08, posting a 1.97/.933 line. That playoff, his second in the NHL, went a long way to coloring everyone's idea of his abilities to rise to the occasion like few other in league history. His winning the Stanley Cup the next season despite decidedly sub-average numbers of 2.61/.908 did little to help, especially as he allowed a combined six goals in the Penguins four wins in the Finals (which made it very easy to ignore the 11 against in three losses).
Thus he established his reputation as unimpeachable rock at the back, even as his performances the next two postseasons were shockingly poor. Save percentages of .899 and .891, respectively. Goals-against averages of 2.78 and 2.52. A total of just 20 games played. Disappointing performances for both team and player, who by the way makes $5 million against the cap, and yet none of it stuck to him.
It must be nice for Fleury: Three straight years of subpar performances following a good one and one in which you win the Stanley Cup despite not being good, and you're clutch forever. Doesn't matter how many stinkers you turn in during that time (and if we consider allowing three or more as a bad performance for a clutch playoff goaltender, the answer is 15 out of 23).
But again, hockey types don't usually like to change their beliefs very much, and I'm not sure how many embarrassing goals it takes to change their minds. Maybe this abysmal, all-time-historically-bad performance against the Flyers will dispel the belief that Fleury has been — at any point aside from one spring four years ago — something he's not.
Namely: Good in the playoffs.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Saku Koivu won't play in the World Championships next month, specifically because he's trying to work out a new contract with the Ducks. This article also reminded me that Saku Koivu is 37 years old, which is pretty amazing.
Boston Bruins: If someone would like to alert Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Brad Marchand that the playoffs have begun, the team would really appreciate it. Imagine if someone told you a week ago that Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot would be carrying the water offensively.
Buffalo Sabres: "Sabres undone by losing mentality." Also, iffy roster, undue expectations, terrible offseason signings, and a bad coach.
Calgary Flames: Interesting article about Brent Sutter here. You'll recall he listed "philosophical differences" as his reason for leaving the team, which makes this quote terribly fascinating: "I had three years there. You're right that it's a hard thing (squeezing into the playoffs). Jay [Feaster] should be able to bring in his own guy. Jay and I never had a discussion about a rebuild (tearing it down), just getting more young players into the lineup. The word rebuild, though. Never used." So now I officially think Jay Feaster intends to continue trying to get into eighth, which is hilariously misguided.
Carolina Hurricanes: Speaking of NHL guys coaching for Canada at the World Championships, Sutter got the top job, and Carolina coach Kirk Muller will be an assistant, along with Guy Boucher. So, uh, don't expect Canada to play run and gun hockey.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Bollig drew into the Blackhawks lineup as a way to prevent guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane from getting run, but he added some offense as well on Saturday night. He scored Chicago's second goal, and in doing so also picked up his first-ever NHL point. Not a bad way to do it.
Colorado Avalanche: This will be a terribly important offseason in Denver. With Joe Sacco back under contract, will the team increase payroll to pursue big-name free agents? Probably not. Will it wait for its strong youth core to continue improving? More likely. Taking all expiring contracts into consideration, they have about $50 million in cap space and only seven guys signed for next season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Might Columbus end up drafting defenseman Ryan Murray second overall at the draft in June? They might just. Murray also may or may not have been invited to play for Team Canada at the World Championships, to give you an idea of his NHL-readiness.
Dallas Stars: Brenden Morrow sure hopes he won't be as injured next season as he was in this past one. He played in just 57 games for Dallas, scoring the second-lowest goal total in his career (11). His one worse year, when he scored five, came because he played only 18 games.
Detroit Red Wings: What a shot by Henrik Zetterberg. The no-look is massive. Whoa.
Edmonton Oilers: More Brent Sutter news -- This runout for Team Canada might be an audition for the Oilers' top job. That would be quite the heel turn. Hope he knocks out Jay Feaster and spray paints a yellow stripe down his back.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers say they're still confident in Jose Theodore even after he gave up three on Friday night and two more on Sunday. Makes sense. If it hadn't been for him, the first period would have ended about 6-0.
Los Angeles Kings: Hey at least it occurs to Darryl Sutter that pretty much every home ice team in the playoffs so far has ceded at least one game in their own rink. He'd really, really like it if the Kings reversed that trend since it would mean, you know, that they will have won the series.
Minnesota Wild: The Minnesota Wild are working on an extension for Chuck Fletcher, since if you can't make the playoffs in three seasons, you definitely deserve an extension. But hey, Craig Leipold says, "Chuck's team is coming in next year. The guys who his people have scouted, who his people have drafted, who he has developed are these great, young prospects, and I think the next couple of years are going to be really proud years." Think, or hope?
Montreal Canadiens: Good status update on exactly what the Habs seem to be looking for in their next GM. It seems Marc Bergevin, Julien BriseBois, Francois Giguere and Claude Loiselle are all on the short list. I wonder what those guys have in common.
Nashville Predators: Prior to Sergei Kostitsyn's crucial game-winner yesterday, the Preds' top line of he, Mike Fisher and Martin Erat had combined for a single assist — that on Kevin Klein's beauty goal to make it 2-0 — after going scoreless in Nashville. Can't keep relying on defensemen to score all the goals in this series.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils would like very much to sleep the entire time between the end of one game and the beginning of another. "I think our history over the last half of the season was that when we're rested we play well and when fatigue gets set in a little bit for us we don't," said Peter DeBoer. "So, we want to control that the best we can." Optional skates for everyone!
New York Islanders: The Islanders' AHL affiliate is now running out a number of younger players in an attempt to see if they've got what it takes to make it in the playoffs. Of course, that seems counterproductive to an extent as those kids won't have to worry about the big club qualifying for a few more years at least.
New York Rangers: Congratulations to John Tortorella for not saying dirty words a lot after his team got punished physically (cheap though it may have been) for once. I wonder, though, if he still thinks his team respects other players after that Hagelin flying elbow to poor Dany Alfredsson.
Ottawa Senators: What I loved about the Nick Foligno game-tying goal that forced overtime is that every Senator on the ice touched it in the space of about eight seconds.
Philadelphia Flyers: Please, yes, let's start linking a team that has done well on offense but certainly not defense to a team that got to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals after two or three playoff games in which you've received precisely no defense. You can never ever start doing that too early.
Phoenix Coyotes: If you haven't been paying attention, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is becoming one of the best young defensemen in the league. Between him, Keith Yandle, Brandon Gormley and so forth, this team is gonna be Marianas Trench-deep at the blue line for the next decade.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins are all like, "Haha no this isn't great or anything but being down 2-0 after a pair of home games against our archrivals is totally not a big deal." What about 3-0 then?
San Jose Sharks: It's been really great to see this develop from what looked, on the outside, to be only a fairly decent 2-7 matchup, into this one, filled with acrimony and contempt. This one has the potential to get nasty.
St. Louis Blues: Just when you think you've seen it all in the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues' bench literally breaks and needs to be replaced in the middle of a game.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts recently saw one of their prospects, former college player Cory Conacher, named MVP of the AHL this season. This is notable, though, because Concacher is a 22-year-old rookie. He's just the fourth rookie ever to win the award.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Well sure the Leafs still haven't made the playoffs but they're still the most popular team in Canada so it's all going great for them.
Vancouver Canucks: If the Canucks get bounced in the first round, and then the Senators do as well, at least a few people in Canada might actually cry. Not because they're diehards, but because they're CBC executives whose two biggest ratings draws for the next two months got eliminated two weeks in.
Washington Capitals: Mike Green says he hasn't felt better in two years than he does right now. Someone might want to let his on-ice game know the good news.
Winnipeg Jets: Claude Noel reportedly had a rather revealing conversation with a Jets season ticket holder at a Winnipeg restaurant last week. It all sounds very dubious, especially considering he disclosed, among other things, that Ondrej Pavelec's 68 games played this season was 10 more than Noel would have preferred, he doesn't think Nik Antropov plays with enough passion, and Alex Burmistrov should have stayed in juniors. The team won't comment, for obvious reasons.
Gold Star Award
I guess Pekka Rinne was pretty good yesterday, what with making 41 saves and so forth.
Minus of the Weekend
So many candidates this weekend. Ryan Kesler, Brendan Shanahan, Matt Carkner, Paul MacLean, Arron Asham, etc. etc. etc. Take your pick, I guess.
But for me, no one was a bigger jerk than James Neal, who spent all of Sunday's game looking to cause a problem, and both Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux found out the hard way that he meant it. Each received clear headshots from the 40-goalscorer on consecutive shifts in the third period, and Shanahan better ring Neal up for the remainder of the Penguins' postseason run, short though it may be.
Play of the Weekend
This Kevin Klein goal was pretty nice. Oh wait he's a defenseman. It was awesome, then.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User Flameshomer has his think' cap on.
1st overall (nail)
RFA rights of PK Subban.
I say we go for it.
That's all we need here is a good, strong, expensive meal.
Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.