Game 6 Primer
The Penguins goaltending situation has been the hottest topic in town over the past couple days. How Marc Andre Fleury is viewed has always been fascinating to me.
On one side of the spectrum you have what I call the Fleury media friends crowd that overrates Fleury because of how great of a guy he is off the ice that often leads to Fleury being put on a pedestal by this group that he’s some kind of elite goaltender.
Then you have those on the other side who probably don’t give Fleury enough credit to an extent, but don’t have the personal affection towards Fleury that those covering him may have. This crowd certainly views Fleury more in reality.
Fleury is what he is — A slightly above average goaltender than can get you 35 wins, but despite winning a Stanley Cup, is still a goaltender with a .906 save percentage all-time in the playoffs which is a brutal number and has a combined career save percentage of .911 (Regular season/Post-season) —
He’s a slightly above average goaltender when you factor everything in. Let’s not sugar coat it.
If Fleury was Tom Barrasso off the ice, bet you wouldn’t see one column calling for Fleury to start.
What Murray continues to prove is that experience for goaltenders is overrated. It’s not just that the Penguins are 6-2 with Murray in the playoffs, they’ve won 15 of 21 games with him in goal, regular season/playoffs combined.
What Mike Sullivan is doing is sticking with the goaltender who is giving him .937 save percentage goaltending, therefore, the best chance for the Penguins to win. Murray is not some journeyman backup like a Scott Darling for example who gets hot for a few games and you ride him till he loses a game. Unless you have Carey Price on your team or Henrik Lundqvist pre-2016 playoffs, you stick with a goaltender as talented as Murray who is giving you elite goaltending like he is.
This is the same type of move Dan Bylsma made in the 2013 playoffs with Tomas Vokoun when the Penguins had another situation of two No. 1 goaltenders. What did Vokoun give the Penguins like Murray is giving them now? .930 + save percentage goaltending, .933 to be exact.
The Penguins didn’t lose to the Bruins because of Vokoun. In Games 3 & 4 vs Boston, Vokoun posted a .953 save percentage. Pittsburgh lost that series because Boston’s best players out-performed Pittsburgh’s.
If the Penguins end up losing this series to Washington, it’s going to be more about Washington’s best players being better than Pittsburgh’s like Game 5 played out than goaltending being the issue.
Focus Turns to the Stars
As expected, a lot of the focus is on the Penguins top guns coming into tonight.
The Penguins lead a series after five games for just the second time in the Sidney Crosby era when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for one goal or less through the first five games. The last time was the conference semifinals vs the Montreal Canadiens in 2010.
Why are the Penguins up 3-2 in a series that’s been as even as it could be?
Goaltending and more skilled depth.
The NHL is such a coached up league anymore, it’s been clear in this series the chances of a Crosby-Ovechkin duel like 2009 has no chance of happening. For one, both are not as good as they were seven years ago when both were right in their prime.
Still is a goal, assist each for Malkin and Crosby tonight too much to ask?
“Our top guys are doing more than you [the media] give them credit,” Mike Sullivan told reporters this morning when pressed about the lack of production.
That is true, especially for Crosby who impacts a game so much with his play away from the puck.
But, what an off-season it would be if Crosby and Malkin go out quietly following another blown 3-1 series lead. Whether it’s tonight or Thursday night, this is a big moment for both.
Crosby in 133 shifts through five games, has just 11 shots on goal.
For those making excuses for Crosby and Malkin, even Malkin knows he has to get on the scoresheet, saying today “I need to score.”
Another player who the microscope should be on more is Phil Kessel.
While he’s picking up assists, six of them in the post-season, he has no goals in the series and a bit of an alarming stat, no even strength goals in his last 16 games.
Phil Kessel is making $10 million dollars this season because of his ability to score goals not be Adam Oates. It’s not just Malkin and Crosby. Kessel seeing the third pairings from the opposition has to produce a goal or two at 5-on-5. Maybe it doesn’t catch up to the Penguins this series but the lack of even strength scoring from Kessel will eventually catch up to the Penguins this spring.
— It’s easy to look at the Penguins and say they are too good to lose three straight. I’d also say the Capitals were too good to lose three straight and they still did with some bad luck and great goaltending from Matt Murray. Would anybody be surprised that the script flips and the Capitals win the next two with some lucky bounces and great goaltending from Holtby who steals a game or two?
With how even this series is, nobody should be shocked that the Penguins close it out tonight or the Capitals win the next two.
— Alex Ovechkin today called Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"