Commentor Stoosh has been around quite a while.
He even has a shirt in Storeblog.
He's banged out beastly Homer-esque comments with a high level of consistency.
Only fitting to give him the reins.
I spent part of Sunday morning perusing the Pensblog and reading up on the game thread for the Canes game and then the subsequent recap. I admittedly only saw/listened to most of the first half of the game and missed pretty much all of the latter half of it. I did manage to catch the post-game show and from talking to people who saw the game, it sounded like a loss that was due mostly to the same sorts of things we've seen in many of their losses this year.
They lost largely because they came out flat with no real sense of urgency through the first half of the game. They failed to make life miserable for a couple of relatively average goaltenders by generating little consistent offensive pressure.
That's why I was a little bit stunned to hear some recent criticism - both from callers on the post-game show and in some comments on the blog - being directed at Marc-Andre Fleury. Some called him the weak link on this Pens team. Some looked at his numbers and wondered why he was still considered "elite" when he ranked out of the NHL's top 20 respectively in goals against average and save percentage. Some said he was basically nothing more than a passenger on last year's Cup-winning team.
Look, I'll be the first person to admit that Fleury's occasional twelve-round bouts with concentration during the regular season can be kind of maddening. I'll be the first to admit that he lets in some soft goals now and then, maybe even moreso than you'd like to see out of your goaltender. It's funny, though, that the overwhelming amount of criticism directed at Fleury almost always ends with a suggestion that the Pens need to do better in net, but it's interesting that a suggestion on exactly who that mystery goaltender should be never really seems to materialize.
MAF critics seldom ever suggest anyone better because they fail to realize there really isn't anyone out there who you could plug in and definitively say IS better.
Let's roll up onto the sidewalk and take a look, yes?
Well, Luongo's career playoff series record is 2-2. I'll see that and raise him Fleury's playoff series record of 7-1 over the last two years. Luongo has never sniffed a conference championship series while Fleury's not just played in two - he's won both of them. Luongo hasn't yet earned the right to be called anything better than average once the calendar flips to late April/early May.
Has anyone SEEN him play the last two playoff seasons? Two years ago, the Devils lost to the Rangers in five games in the first round. Brodeur allowed 19 goals in that series. That Rangers team moved on to play the Pens in the next round and was held by Fleury to 12 goals over five games. Last year, Brodeur allowed the Canes to score four goals three times in their seven-game series. In the Eastern Conf. Finals, that same Canes team managed to get just nine pucks past Fleury in four games.
Nabokov? Has anyone seen HIM play the last two playoff series? See Luongo.
Not after the Pens systematically exposed every hole in his game two years ago. He hasn't really carried the same aura of dominance that he had before that series.
I'm not suggesting that Fleury is above criticism...no player is. Fleury's reg. season numbers could be better, although it's interesting that his .906 save percentage this year is just barely worse than the .908 save percentage he posted last year in the playoffs and it didn't seem to hinder the team all that much now, did it?
It's a team game and therein lies the answer. You can seldom point the blame for a team's successes and failures at one person. Goaltenders let in soft goals every once in a while, just the same way that even the best quarterbacks make bad throws or the best defensive backs get beat deep; it comes with the position. Maybe it's not so much Fleury's fault when you've got the defense committing mind-numbingly bad turnovers with the puck on their way out of the zone. Maybe it's not so much Fleury's fault when the offense can't generate more than two goals against an opposing team's backup and/or third-string goaltender.
As we gear up for this playoff run - our third straight year of being considered a bonafide Cup contender - the idea that Fleury has been nothing but a passenger on last year's Cup run is absurd. Consider the following:
* Over the last two years, Fleury has played in eight playoff series and won seven. The last five playoff series the Pens have won, Fleury has closed the door on the road.
* He's won head-to-head matchups convincingly with Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Ward (a long-time go-to-guy for Fleury critics until MAF won his Cup last year).
* In two straight years, he's held the Flyers - the team in the Eastern Conference with probably the deepest corps of scoring forwards - to 25 goals in 11 playoff games.
* He held a potent Caps offense to three goals or less in five of those seven games last year and his save on Ovechkin in Game Seven - on the road - probably changed the entire makeup of that game.
And his performances in Game Six and Seven in last year's Cup Finals...if that wasn't proof enough, I don't know what is. Can you realistically expect much more out of your goaltender? If so, you're almost setting yourself up to be disappointed because I'm not sure a goaltending corps of Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy and Georges Vezina all in their respective primes will satisfy your expectations. Based on their track records over the last few years, there isn't anyone in the league that you could plug in and claim would be a head-and-shoulders upgrade over Fleury.
But the incessant Fleury critics don't see that. They wait for one of his occasional crap games and then march out their time-old mantra - Coglan's Law: Anything else is always something better.
And yes, I just quoted "Cocktail."
Want another reason to be thankful for Fleury? Look at the cap hell the Bruins currently find themselves with Tim Thomas. They've got three more years of him at $5 million per year. Most average-to-above-average goaltenders contribute as 60-game starters in their late 20's and then play at that level through their early 30's. Most elite goaltenders begin to contribute at that level in their early-to-mid 20's. Fleury you'll gladly find in the latter. It's very difficult to replace that.
I know they're no longer youngins by any standard, but when did Keith Tkachuk and Mark Recchi start aging in dog years? Watching Matt Cooke Retribution Night last week, I kept seeing Recchi out there and thought I was watching Billy Joel in hockey equipment.
The very public, very defiant and unconditional defending of Alexander Ovechkin's hit on Brian Campbell by the Capitals organization was sickening. It's one thing for an organization to stand by its player. It's a completely different thing for ownership, management and the coaching staff to continually excuse his reckless play as boundless energy and passion, to ignore that the hit he laid on Campbell was in fact a textbook penalty, and to play down an act that landed Campbell with a concussion and broken bones as "just a little push." If Ovechkin is the kid who gets caught by the teacher punching another kid and gets sent to detention, Boudreau and Leonsis are the parents who go to the school board demanding the teacher get fired.
I'd love to know how many Flyers fans secretly hated the idea of allocating all of that cap money to Chris Pronger as opposed to making a trade that could've upgraded the goaltending. If you're one of those fans, aren't you fighting off the urge to projectile vomit every time you realize that your team is now facing a the prospects of a playoff run with Brian Boucher as their primary goaltender and a $6 million defenseman that's been turned into a pylon by Ruslan Fedotenko?
Want an early candidate for Team Massive Roster Turnover this summer? How about Boston? That game against the Penguins last weekend spoke volumes about potential chemistry issues with that team. We all knew Cooke was going to be challenged, but all we heard all week coming out of Boston was how the Bruins were going to play this physical, punishing game against the Penguins, hitting them every time the Pens had the puck, finishing checks, blah, blah, blah. Shawn Thornton squared off with Cooke a couple of minutes into that game and that was it. Chara's efforts to get his team back in the game with a fight against Mike Rupp generated absolutely nothing but a stupid penalty 45 seconds later. By the third period, the Boston fans were booing their own team off the ice. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has his work cut out for him.
Sad - The very same weekend the Phoenix Coyotes ascend to a tie for the Western Conference standings lead with the Chicago Blackhawks, Pierre Lebrun of ESPN writes in his blog that the Coyotes ownership still is not secure and that relocation of the team may still be an optio[ESPN]
Speaking of the Sharks, they've lost five in a row. They know it's just late March and not late April, right?
As Staff has pointed out in recent posts, we're going to find out a lot about just how ready this Pens team is for the playoffs in this upcoming week. Buckle up. I believe this team is one of the few Eastern Conference teams that no one wants to play in a seven-game playoff series and as much as their fans don't want to admit it, Caps fans are probably the ones who want to see the Pens the least. And as strange as it sounds, I like to think this Pens team is actually built to win more in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. But there were some elements to the style of game the Pens played last year that seem to be missing with alarming consistency from game to game this year and I'd be lying if I said that didn't have me at least a little bit worried.