Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins entered their game against Philadelphia down three games to none. They weren’t about to fade quietly into the night, though; they scored 10 goals in one of the greatest offensive outbursts in recent memory.
Hockey Night in Canada’s P.J. Stock responded to the game at the second intermission of the contest between Vancouver and Los Angeles. His first thoughts? That Marc-Andre Fleury had a good game.
Sure, Fleury allowed three goals on 25 shots for a 0.880 SV%, but it’s still easily his best performance over a full game in the series. In his previous three starts he’s allowed six, seven and four goals; his save percentage has never hit the elusive 0.850 plateau. But Stock wasn’t alone. Articles entitled “Fleury’s baby steps mean the Penguins can climb a mountain” and “Fleury good enough to keep Pens’ season alive” ran late last night. It’s because he’s been so very, very bad that even a mediocre game is praise-worthy.
Fleury’s a first overall pick, and when Pittsburgh drafted him they thought they were fixing their goaltending for the long haul. However, since a brilliant run brought the Penguins to the finals, he’s struggled. He was a question mark all the way to the Stanley Cup in 2009, nearly costing Pittsburgh their second-round series against Washington and finishing the playoffs with a lukewarm 0.908 SV%. He did end the Pens’ series against Montreal a year later, allowing eight goals on the final 38 shots he faced in the series – he finished the post-season with a sub-0.900 SV%. He did the same thing last year against Tampa Bay, allowing four goals on 25-or-fewer shots no less than three times in a seven-game series. Over his career, he’s a 0.905 SV% NHL goalie. Of the 22 goalies with more than 20 playoff games since the lockout, Fleury ranks 19th in save percentage (for the sake of contrast, the much-maligned Roberto Luongo’s 0.916 SV% sits seventh on that same list).
Of course, Fleury looked even better last night when compared to the gong show at the other end of the ice. Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky split time in net, with each allowing five goals against.
Like the Penguins had with Fleury, when Philadelphia went out and signed Ilya Bryzgalov last summer, they thought they were fixing their goaltending for a long, long time. They jettisoned core players in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and instead spent a whopping $51 million to secure Bryzgalov for the next nine seasons. After years of deploying average-ish goalies between the pipes, the Flyers were going to spend money (including $10 million in year one) and get the best.
Has landing the dream free agent worked out any better than burning a first overall pick? Not really.
Bryzgalov ended the regular season on a high note, salvaging what had been a disastrous run to start the year. And while he’s won his first three playoff games for the Flyers, he hasn’t exactly been barring the castle gates in doing so; he’d allowed 12 goals in those three wins and has yet to post a save percentage higher than 0.900. Then he allowed five goals on 18 shots yesterday.
There is simply no sure thing between the pipes. The top-10 goalies in terms of save percentage this post-season have been, in order:
- Long-time journeyman Scott Clemmensen (one shutout in one game played)
- Highly-touted Cory Schneider
- Jonathan Quick, who was supposed to have lost his job to Jonathan Bernier by now
- Tim Thomas, who at 31 made the jump from the AHL to NHL full-time; he won the Conn Smyth last year
- Braden Holtby, a mid-round pick and Washington’s third-string goalie
- Pekka Rinne, drafted in the eighth round in 2004 – the draft ends after seven rounds now
- Henrik Lundqvist, a seventh-round pick in 2000
- Mike Smith, the castoff Phoenix signed to replace Bryzgalov
- Jaroslav Halak, another guy drafted in the old post-seven round world
- Brian Elliott, signed for nothing this summer after burning through two previous NHL homes
Some of these guys – Rinne, Lundqvist, Halak – had risen beyond their humble draft position and were highly regarded this summer. But most of these guys wouldn’t have made any top-10 goalie lists last summer, and some would have been hard-pressed to crack a top-30 list.
That’s something for the Oilers to keep in mind next summer, when Nikolai Khabibulin’s contract mercifully comes off the books. Spending a top draft pick or a pile of money on July 1 doesn’t guarantee performance.