Dan Bylsma and the Pittsburgh Penguins apparently could only watch so much. There’s only so much you can take when you have one of the most talented rosters in all of hockey, yet you’re struggling to get out of the first round for what would be the third straight season.
The obvious continuing (and disturbing) trend for the Penguins and their fans is the play in goal of Marc-Andre Fleury. The former No. 1 pick has been shaky at best and awful at worse for the better part of three straight playoffs now. The Pittsburgh netminder hit a new low Tuesday night into Wednesday, however. Fleury gave up six goals in the Penguins’ Game 4 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bylsma made the change that needed to be made.
The Pittsburgh head coach announced backup Tomas Vokoun would make the start in the pivotal Game 5. One would think that the job is now Vokoun’s to lose, especially the way Fleury has played in net.
Fleury’s postseason struggles date back to the 2011 playoffs. Aside from a Game 2 loss in which he gave up four goals, he was really good, good enough to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay.
From there, though, it was a meltdown. He gave up four goals in Game 5, an 8-2 whooping from the Lightning. He then gave up four more in Game 6. Fleury rebounded in Game 7 giving up just a goal, but Dwayne Roloson was better, and the Penguins were gone.
Last season was even worse. Fleury gave up 17 goals in the first three games, as Pittsburgh would fall behind 3-0 in the series. The Pens pushed it to a Game 6, only for Fleury to give up four more goals.
Now, here he is just four games into this year’s playoffs. After shutting out the Islanders in Game 1, he’s allowed 14 goals in the three games that followed.
Add it all up, and Fleury has allowed 40 goals in his last 10 playoff games, and 59 in his last 13.
That’s not the only excuse for the Penguins, though. They didn’t have Sidney Crosby in 2011. Gone, too, that year was Evgeni Malkin. Their defensive corps, while not filled with Norris candidates this year, isn’t as bad as it was last year. The D-men were just as much to blame in 2012 as anything else.
But this year was supposed to be different. Crosby and Malkin are both healthy. Chris Kunitz is having a career year. Kris Letang is a Norris candidate. Ray Shero went out and plucked veteran forwards Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow as well as big defenseman Doug Murray at the deadline.
This team is loaded, everyone said. Except for in between the pipes. That one glaring question mark has become the all-too-obvious reason as to why the Islanders actually have a chance to derail the Penguins’ march to the Stanley Cup. For that, Bylsma and the rest of the Penguins coaching staff had to make a move.
So now they turn to Vokoun, hoping he can at least be solid. That’s what must make Fleury’s struggles so infuriating for the Pens. They just need Fleury, basically, to not suck. The Penguins are going to score, and they’re going to be in position to win games. They don’t need someone to stand on his head, they just need someone who won’t blow up like Fleury has all too often.
Vokoun should, in theory, be an improvement. His success against the Islanders probably makes the decision even easier. He’s appeared in four games this season against the Islanders and he’s made three starts. In those games, he’s 3-0-1 having stopped 98 of the 101 shots.
So there’s the potential for him to be good. But the biggest thing he’s got going for him right now is that he’s not Marc-Andre Fleury. For that, the job is now his.
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders