There is an interesting thing going on in the NHL right now. Teams like Chicago and Montreal are letting go the goaltenders that made their post seasons successful. First Montreal traded away Jaroslav Halak for two minor leaguers, Halak being the goaltender who not only beat the Penguins in game seven of the playoffs last season, he also ended the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup hopes in game seven of the series before that. Chicago decided $2.75 million was to high of a price to sign Antti Niemi the goaltender who won all 16 playoff games for them and their first Stanley Cup in a zillion years.
The Penguins GM Ray Shero previously went the opposite route and signed goaltender Marc-André Fleury to a long term deal that has Fleury pocketing an average of over $5 mil a year the next five years. When the Penguins won the Cup in 2009 this was heralded as a great move, funny thing though, in the next 5 years this will be both considered a bad move and great move over and over. Brent Johnson, the Penguins back-up goaltender on the other hand is signed this year and next and is making 600 thousand a year, just about the least the Penguins could pay him and keep him on the roster.
The controversy is not who the Penguins #1 long term goaltender is. That is Marc-André Fleury. The controversy is who should start the next game in Dallas. Every healthy #1 goaltender expects to get the start especially after a 4 day layoff. The problem if you can call it that is Brent Johnson’s hot streak of not letting a puck go past him in regulation in the last two games. Exacerbating the problem is that Fleury’s play in net has not only been less than stellar, it is bottoms in the NHL.
If you went by the numbers, Johnson gets the start. He is 2nd over all in the NHL in save percentage, second overall in goals against average and the only game he lost was a game he didn’t allow a goal in regulation. Fleury on the other hand has the second worst save percentage, and ranks 33rd in the NHL in goals against and has only won 1 game this year, and that was in overtime. The numbers above do not lie. Brent Johnson has also faced 41 powerplay shots compared to Fleury’s 29.
It’s not like the Penguins are scoring more goals for Johnson than Fleury. The goals scored by the Penguins for each is about the same. They have scored 16 goals for Fleury in six games and 19 goals for Johnson in six. Two of the goals scored for Johnson were emptynetters, so the numbers are more like 16 for Fleury 17 for Johnson or almost even.
The biggest problem in all of Fleury’s losses is that Fleury has given up the first goal in all six games he has played. In the last four games alone he has given a goal up in less than the first 5 1/2 minutes of each game. This has allowed the teams the Penguins are playing to play more of a shut down game making it much harder to score goals.
Truth be told, the difference in the numbers above can be a tiny bit attributed to the strength of competition factor. Fleury has faced the Eastern Conference Champions Flyers twice already, the runner up eastern conference champion Canadiens and the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning. Johnson also played the Flyers, but beyond that his second biggest win was against the NJ Devils and that was bit tarnished because they only had 15 players dressed.
There is no doubt that Fleury will be back in top form this season and that the only way for him to prove himself is to get time in goal. Even with that being said the next games goaltender should be an easy one to pick. Go with the hot goaltender. Fleury is not a young kid any more, he has been there and done that and will rebound. Give him time to work on his game. In the mean time, take the wins while you can get them.