Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury

3 08 2011

I have been known to be something of a “Fleury hater” for many years. I don’t like the term “hater” because that implies a complete and total illogical dislike of a player for reasons that cannot be logic’d or discussed. When I would discuss Fleury’s previous disappointments I would do so with facts and figures and it usually got people to either get real quiet or jump on the “well, I’m a better fan because I don’t criticize players on my team” wagon. This season was truly a tale of two players. I’m happy to say he shut me the Hell up and did his job. With that, I give you the Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury.

Amazing how much leeway having your name on the Cup nets you when dealing with critics.

Do goaltenders get unjust criticism and unjust praise? Yes, they do. Much in the same way quarterbacks in the NFL get unjust criticism and undue praise (Trent Dilfer, circa 2000 Ravens, I’d like a word), but it is also part of the job and position. A goaltender has to be mentally tough. There is so little room for error and every movement and mistake is magnified because of being the only player of that position on the ice for your team. Mistakes often lead to goals. Many goals lead to losses. Thus, goaltender mistakes are the cause of losses, thus the goaltender is the cause of the loss. Anyone who watches any sport knows that very rarely can one man be blamed, wholly and exclusively for a loss. Poor goaltending is one of those areas where you can point to a specific instance for a loss.

If that doesn’t begin when I time stamped it, skip to the 8:50 mark. If you want to see a bad goal, that is a bad goal. It’s a bad technical goal because of not having his stick in position and from leaving a gaping hole between his pads and it was an atrociously bad goal because he allowed that with less than two minutes to play in a tie game in the 3rd period. A goal that should never, ever, ever be allowed by a professional goaltender is bad enough, but they happen. To allow Scott Gomez’s eyebrows to score that goal late in a game and lose in the same manner (i.e. atrocious goaltending) to the team responsible for eliminating you from playoffs the year before? Yikes. You’d think you’d be able to get up for a game like that and show you put the previous season behind you. At the start of the year? Nah, the Flower had none of that. I was one of the lone voices in 2010 indicating he was a major weakness on a lazy team and everyone called me a bad fan and how I didn’t know what I was talking about. Well, his 2011 season started off exactly as his 2010 season ended.

65GP, 62GS, 56:51TOI, 36W, 20L, 5OTL, 143GA, 2.32GAA, 1742SA, 1599SV, 918SV%, 3SO

In the first 10 games played by no. 29, the Pens went 4-6 (the team’s first win came with Brent Johnson between the pipes) and Flower allowed 28 goals on 219 shots. One of the team wins was on November 6 when Fleury was pulled after 6:56 ice time when he allowed 2 goals on 5 shots. Within the first 10 games he was boasting a killer .845 SV%. It makes one wonder how he finished with such stellar numbers and how he became THE most important player down the stretch when he started out so rough.

Thankfully the Cup isn’t awarded in October or November. Thankfully Dan Bylsma found his spine and benched Fleury as he continued to cost the team games and valuable points. Everyone made jokes and comments about the playoffs don’t start in October, but every point matters. Need I remind everyone just how crucial a few of those lost points were at the end of the season? One more point and we would have won the Atlantic division. Really, though, I feel the season and turnaround in MAF’s game came hinged on him being benched and getting his mind straight. That little win streak and Crosby’s unreal point streak helped from mid-November helped, but sometimes things come together as they need to. In this case, Flower got sat down and the team started getting together.

I will say this – I am glad that Fleury was garbage to begin the year and Johnny played out of his mind because I had the best Halloween costume I’ve ever made:

Looking at the stats, it was a pretty impressive season overall for Marc-Andre. Started 62 games, no major injuries, had excellent relief in Brent Johnson, posting a 36-20 record and, more importantly, a .918SV% and 2.32GAA. A .918SV% was good enough for 15th overall in the NHL and the 2.32 GAA placed him 9th in the NHL among goaltenders. Either way you slice it, Fleury finished the season as a top-half of the league goaltender. It is imperative to note how the defense played, too, down the stretch. Flower and his D reliably held opposing teams to 2 goals or fewer per game. Sadly, Fleury’s very, very bad start caused his stats to be a little less impressive.

More importantly, and this is never really shown in the statistics, is the quality of the saves and the importance of the saves. In 2010 MAF was known for giving up soft and poorly timed goals. To start 2011 he was also giving up the same poorly timed and soft goals. He gave up bad goals. As the season moved on he made BIG saves. He made important saves. He eliminated the back-breaking and painful goals (like the one to Gomez linked above). He made the saves that a big time goaltender needed to make. Previously he wasn’t making those (less some huge saves in the ’09 Cup run). Even though the end result was not what we had all hoped, “history stops everything.”

Sadly the Pens’ popgun offense was not enough to overcome Fleury playing out of his mind and allowing two goals or fewer regularly from about January onward. In December and January he only had one game where his save percentage was below .900 (12/26 vs OTT). Month by month, 29’s SV% was as follows:

October: .863

November: .931

December: .931

January: .942

February: .899

March: .916

If you are partial to seeing things in action instead of on paper (or on a computer screen), just take a look at this:

And the Shootouts. How could we ignore the shootouts? Everyone joked about the Pens going to so many shootouts as the season went on, but the goaltender is the most important part of the shootout. By record, MAF was 2nd best in the NHL in Wins in a shootout (with 8). Overall in the SO, Flower had an .842SV%, facing 38 shots and allowed only 6 goals. A truly, truly astonishing feat, considering how the modern shootout is stacked against the goaltender. And, of course, we can never forget that we got to see some of the flourish that goes into the shootout preparation. Roll that beautiful bean footage:

Overall, Flower performed statistically better at home, but had a disproportionate amount of losses (largely due to the early season) compared to road games. At home, 29 showed a .924SV% and a 2.17GAA. On the road he posted a .911SV% and 2.51GAA. In overall wins, he posted a .940%, whereas in losses he posted a .880%. The old adage of “the team that scores more goals wins,” but the goaltender plays a vital role in that bearing true. If Fleury was having a bad game, there was typically a loss attached to it. When looking at save percentage with regard to days of rest between games, Fleury showed to be much better as an active goaltender than one with substantial time between games. When playing two games back to back he averaged a .925%; with 1 day of rest he posted a .915%, but with 2 days of rest he kipped up to a .938%, but with 3 or more days off he dropped terribly to .894%.

Statistically, it was a very good year. 143 goals allowed was the fewest he’s allowed when playing 50 or more games. Likewise, 2.32 is the lowest GAA he’s ever had in his NHL career. It was also his best save percentage (again with a minimum of 50 games). The only area where he was a “disappointment” was only having 3 shutouts on the season, which was an uptick from last season when he only had 1, but a drop from the two seasons prior, both in which he had 4 shut outs.

It truly was a magical year for Marc-Andre. He started off poorly, got benched, took his benching like a man, earned back his starting job and then kept the team in so many games. I fear there will be a little bit of a drop off next season, but I’m hopeful he can play consistently, as that has always been an issue until this year, and keep doing what works for him. It is so hard to really evaluate a goaltender just by looking at a stat line because, as mentioned above, there are intangibles surrounding the quality and timeliness of saves and making a big save to swing momentum or deflate another team. This year, MAF had “it.” The element to his game that had been missing was rediscovered and hopefully he doesn’t lose it again. Looking ahead to next season, here’s how I see the major statistics breaking down:

67GP, 65GS, 57:03TOI, 38W, 17L, 4OTL, 136GA, 2.41GAA, 1715SA, 1579SV, .911SV%, 5SO.

I expect a good year out of MAF. I fear he may have a little bit of up-and-down play. He’ll tick those SO numbers up because he’s got an all-world defense in front of him most of the night, but I think will have a very slight fall off from this season’s numbers because he’ll have a little more offense in front of him and he can gamble on things like the pokecheck and/or getting off his leash and attempting to play the puck (Marc, please stop – stay in the crease, don’t try to play the puck. Hextall and Brodeur you ain’t).

Oh, how silly of me, I forgot the most important stat: 1 B-Boy pose

Let’s go Pens.

 

 

 


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7 responses

3 08 2011
Nancy Halligan

What metrics are you using to assess player talent? I mean, OTHER than boxscores and clips from YouTube that highlight very specific moments that you choose to emphasize.

3 08 2011
jasp871966

prolly actually watching the games they play and have played
using some brains and hockey knowledge
looking at their work ethic on and off the ice, drive, passion, commitment, leadership, etc.

3 08 2011
Walt Flanagan

Well, like jasp871966 said – I do use just general understanding of the game and some intangibles, such as ability to shake off a bad goal or step up and swing momentum for the team with an unreal save.

Metrics? I’m sorry to say, I question whether you actually read the post – I mentioned Wins/Losses, but went into some great depth about save percentage and goals against, the two most important stats for a goaltender.

I am honestly intrigued as to what you wanted explained more? There is a certain limitation to what is available on Youtube (generally speaking only good things are found there, not the bad things). I’m not being snarky, I genuinely want to know what you wanted. Did you want me to write about how poorly he played? Because I just can’t based off his play outside of the first 10 or so games. He was the reason the Pens won most of the games they did from January onward. Last I checked, too, I didn’t just use “boxscores and clips from Youtube.”

If you were writing it, what would you have discussed?

3 08 2011
Kevin Gomolchak

I hate the “hater” label. No one hates their players (Exceptions for Chris Bourque, Mike Comrie, etc.).
Walt is a Fleury critic not a Fleury hater.
I’m a Fleury I’m-not-gonna-make-a-statement-because-I-don’t-want-people-to-jump-all-over-me-itic.
Getting knocked out in the playoffs was not at all Fleury’s fault (Some people think he was. Idiots.). It was Niskanen’s bad defense in game 7 and the fact our 3rd liners could grind bitches down but couldn’t score as the top line.

3 08 2011
Walt Flanagan

The loss in game 7 can be blamed not at one person, but at the entire unit of the Power Play. They had their chances. They had plenty of chances through the entire series to score one or two PP goals and finish off the Lightning. They didn’t score. In a 1-0 loss, you pretty much cannot blame any one single player.

That said – I still liked Nisky in the line-up in place of Engo. Neither are great defensively, but vs Tampa you need someone with some speed and who can generate offense. Engo’s stone feet and inability to make a pass would have been a permanent nightmare match-up. That said, he would have ended Ryan Malone.

3 08 2011
Jessica Rex

that b-boy pose is still my background on my laptop and every time i see it i still chuckle.

pretty much spot on with this. just hope he can keep playing unreal next season. seriously, solid goal tending, crazy defense, and sid and geno on fire next season. sldkfjklsdjfkl. jizz everywhere.

3 08 2011
Walt Flanagan

We all were waiting for it, too. He didn’t disappoint.

I am afraid he is going to have a drop off. The real test becomes if he has a bad slump or starts off shaky if he can get his mind right and play with a fire like he did for 2/3 of last season. Don’t get me wrong, he still had a bad game here and there, but a bad game is bound to happen. A good game amidst poor play was 2010. A bad game amidst stellar play was 2011.

If he plays even close to the level of 2011 with a healthy team in front of him, with Engo and Lovejoy comfortable as the 3rd D-pairing, I have no concerns. There are always going to be players and teams that whup our collective asses, but I expect great things from the whole team next year.

IF, and it’s a big question mark, the team can remain relatively healthy they will be a true force because they will -finally- have a solid mix of skill, grit, and a huge chip on shoulders that they are underestimated at the opposing team’s peril.

I genuinely am getting antsy to see just how ready Sid and Geno are. I think Geno has an insane drive to be a Rocket Richard, Art Ross, and Conn Smythe (again). Same with Sid. If they each get a player to plow the road for them (Kuni and Neal, for example) and another to take the heat off them (Sullivan, Staal, Kennedy, Jeffrey, Testy)…man. They are going make Scott Clemmensen forget how to drink water.

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