by PuckStopsHere on 06/02/13 at 04:17 PM ET
One of the more heavily discussed topics in the playoffs right now is Pittsburgh's goaltending situation. For most of the season Marc-Andre Fleury has been the Penguins number one goalie. Tomas Vokoun was brought in last summer to be an experienced backup goalie and potentially somebody who is capable of carrying the number one job. During the regular season both goalies put up roughly equivalent numbers with Fleury playing more games (33 vs. 20). In the playoffs Fleury was the number one goalie at the outset of the playoffs. He played the first four games against the Islanders and wasn't particularly impressive. He posted a .891 saves percentage with two wins and two losses. His final game was his worst with six goals allowed on 24 shots. At this point it was time to try Vokoun. Tomas Vokoun played pretty well and has posted a .937 saves percentage and a 1.98 GAA so far. However, after losing game one to Boston by a 3-0 score there have been calls for Pittsburgh to return to Fleury in net.
This isn't a situation where a team has a proven starter and a more unproven backup and when the starter struggled the backup performed admirably, but inevitably gave the job back to the starter. It is quite possible (probable even) that Vokoun is the better of the two goalies. Fleury has won a Stanley Cup and he was the unused third goaltender on the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team as a result, but at no point has proven he is an elite goalie. He has always been the weak link on a strong Pittsburgh team that is among the top teams in the league. At best he has been good enough for Pittsburgh to win but they have never won because of him.
Vokoun was a top goalie in Nashville and Florida. He was all star calibre and when those teams won, they won because of him. They were not great teams and rarely did they win enough to make the playoffs. They didn't play in high profile markets and he largely got overlooked. In the first six years after the 2004/05 lockout, he posted the second highest saves percentage in hockey (behind Tim Thomas - and at some points in that time frame ahead of him). As a free agent, he should have been able to jump into a big money contract but that wasn't to be. He wound up signing for a year in Washington. The Capitals could never fully give him the number one goalie job and he looked more ordinary. He signed in Pittsburgh last summer into his current role. Again he was never given the number one role and he looked more ordinary. He has posted his best numbers this season and played his best hockey this season in the playoffs. I would argue that he is a better goalie than Fleury. He may still be able to be an elite goalie, though at age 36 that is far from a given.
Fleury has been overrated due to the fact he has played on a team that wins. Vokoun has been underrated because, for the most part, he has played on a team that has not won. In the last five seasons straight, Vokoun has posted the better saves percentage. I argue that means he should be the number one goalie.
The idea that goaltending was the problem in Pittsburgh's game one loss against Boston is completely wrong. They did not score any goals. That is not the goaltender's fault. If anything you change the offence when you get shut out.
Pittsburgh wants to win the Stanley Cup. Their best chance at winning the cup comes by playing the best possible group of players. Tomas Vokoun is a better player than Marc-Andre Fleury and Pittsburgh should use him in goal as long as he continues to play well. His .937 saves percentage is strong evidence he is playing well.
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