The Fleury Factor
Going into Tuesday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, the Atlantic Division looked like this:
What did we know?
We knew the Pens were tied for first place in the division. We also knew that despite having a share of first place in the Division, the Pens were fourth-worst in division in Goals Against (GA), as well as ranked 18th in the entire NHL in that category.
A quick look at Goals For (GF) tells us that the Penguins must be winning because of their offense. The Pens are tops in the division in goals scored and fifth-best overall in the league.
Of course, these facts alone do not tell us everything. Let’s take it another step.
Shots Against (average per game)
New Jersey (27.4)
Based on the numbers above, you can clearly see the Penguins are second best in the Atlantic division in shots allowed per game…
In fact, the Penguins have a top 5 defense in the NHL for fewest shots allowed.
Shots against rankings league wide:
#1 Chicago Blackhawks (24.9)
#2 Devils (27.4)
#3 Los Angeles Kings (27.7)
#4 Ottawa Senators (28.5)
#5 Penguins (28.6)
In review, the Pens are fifth-best in goals scored and fifth-best in shots allowed in the league. This tells us that they have a top tier offense and defense. But why are they a poor fourth-worst in the division and 18th in the league in goals against?
The answer is save percentage. Entering Tuesday evening, here were the percentages of the Atlantic Division goalies.
Henrik Lundqvist – Rangers – .920
Martin Broudeur – Devils – .915
Dwayne Roloson – Islanders – .909
Michael Leighton / Ray Emery – Flyers – .906
Marc-Andre Fleury – Penguins – .905
In a radio interview on Tuesday, one beat writer for the team blasted the Penguins defense and stated that Fleury has had a great season, saving the Penguins this year. This could not be further from the truth.
The only argument that could even be tried is that despite being fifth best in the NHL in Shots Against, the Penguin defense gives up more quality chances per Shots Against. This, of course, would be an absurd statement, bordering on ignorance.
Most starting goalies face more than 1,000 shots of shots per year. Each of them faces shots of varying difficulty. All of these goalies get left out to dry at times .Thomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers sees 35 shots per night. You think Fleury wants to have Vokoun’s job? Take away the Pens fifth-ranked scoring offense and their fifth-ranked defense in Shots Against, and give Fleury the Panthers’ offense and defense.
Let me know how many championships he wins.
Last year, the Pens held the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings to a ridiculously low average of 23 and 26 shots, respectively, for five of the seven games in each series. These were offenses that were regularly pumping 36-40 shots per night before they faced Pittsburgh.
My guess is that this beat writer and others who are like-minded are basing their opinion (that the Pens’ defense is not playing well) on what they saw last postseason. It would be unrealistic to expect that kind of defensive performance again. But the defense is still 5th best in shots as they average 28 shots against per game. Tuesday night they held the Caps to only 27 shots. They average 33 a game on the season. This defense is pretty good. Playing Goalie in Pittsburgh didn’t all of a sudden become an impossible job. Fleury just needs to bring his save percentage up a bit. He needs to start living up to expectations that his fans have placed on him. He needs to live up to that new contract that was given to him.
To take a cue from former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil:
It’s time to take the Diapers off young man.