Marc-Andre Fleury: Pittsburgh Penguins Scapegoat

Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his 11th straight victory after being pulled in the prior game. (©Stephanie Cohen)
Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his 11th straight victory after being pulled in the prior game that he started. (©Stephanie Cohen)

Many of you will never like Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. It doesn’t matter if he wins another one or two Stanley Cups. As soon as Fleury has another bad game, he will be crucified. This will spark debate for Tomas Vokoun to take over the duties as the starting goaltender.

Superbowl Quarterback

This slandering has striking similarities to the back-up quarterback syndrome in NFL football. We deal with this disease quite often with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has won two Superbowls, was extremely close to winning a third, and people still call for back-up quarterbacks, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, to take over duties for Roethlisberger.

Penguins fans could not go six games without calling for Fleury’s head. Parallel to how the starting quarterback is blamed for every loss in Pittsburgh, so is the number one goaltender. Many people are beginning to nominate back-up goaltender Vokoun for the starting role. Keep in mind, Fleury is a net-minder who has won a Stanley Cup and kept his team from being swept out of another Stanley Cup Finals. He deserves respect.

Coaching Decisions

We were well aware of Fleury’s 5.40 goals against average and .740 save percentage at the CONSOL Energy Center before his victory against the New Jersey Devils Saturday afternoon. If the Pens were lighting the goal lamp on fire registering five goals a night and Fleury was letting in just as many at the same time, then I could understand replacing Fleury.

But the Pens weren’t providing much offensive help for the Flower before Saturday. The Penguins’ offense scored over three goals in a game for only the second time all season. In their first two home games, the Pens scored a grand total of three goals before exploding for five tucks at home against the Devils Saturday.

I can also comprehend the thought process of going with the hot goaltender and riding out Vokoun until he has a bad outing. Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault has been switching back-and-forth riding the hot goaltender since the start of the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury won his 11th straight game after being pulled in the prior contest. (Tom Turk/THW)
Marc-Andre Fleury made 15 saves in a victory against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. (Tom Turk/THW)

At the other end of the spectrum, the outcome of a hockey game depends upon many different factors. More goes into winning a hockey game than a goaltender’s performance on most nights. The way in which a goalie can look depends upon how his teammates are playing in front of him.

Bipolar Penguins

In the game where Fleury lost to the Islanders, the Pens collectively played one of their worst games in years. Immediately following this tilt, many fans wanted Vokoun to take over as the starting goaltender.

Thursday, against the New York Rangers, the Pens looked like a completely different team. They gave a fantastic all-around effort at both ends of the rink. Coincidentally, the Pens decided to pick up their game when Vokoun was between the pipes.

Vokoun made convincing statements afterwards that the win against the Rangers wasn’t so much him, but the way the Pens played in front of him.

“It’s going to sound strange, but the game was kind of easy for me. It’s always tough when you face decisions. You don’t know who is going to shoot and who is open.  For the most part today we were just where we needed to be. We didn’t let them go east/west. All the shots were coming straight at me so it makes it a lot easier for the goalie.”

The Proof

This proves Fleury could’ve easily won this game, and shows how important the rest of a teams’ performance is to a goaltenders’ success.If you still want to make Fleury the scapegoat the next time the Penguins have a bad performance, check out his numbers after he has been pulled in a previous game by Dan Bylsma.

Fleury is now 11-0 in the last 11 games in which he was pulled from his prior start. The Flower has continuously bounced back after poor performances. This is not to say Fleury is always sharp in the net, but next time try giving Fleury a little credit before bashing him. He always takes the blame.

The game against the Devils, which the Pens seemed to convincingly win, would’ve been much closer if not for the stellar play of Fleury. He only faced 15 shots, but timely saves at key times made the game look like a breeze for the Pens. Two huge saves early in the third period paved the way for a Pens’ victory. To put the icing on the cake, Marc-Andre Fleury made this spectacular glove save on David Clarkson in the closing minutes of the game.