How Will Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury Co-Exist in Net for the Penguins?
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The Pittsburgh Penguins had a bad ending to the 2011-12 season.
As the playoffs got underway, the Penguins were one of the Stanley Cup favorites. They had played well in the final month of the regular season.
Sidney Crosby was back in the lineup, seemingly feeling no ill effects from the concussion issues that had prevented him playing since the 2011 Winter Classic, and the Penguins appeared rejuvenated.
They seemed poised for a good postseason run, one that might include a date with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It did not happen. The Penguins were blitzed in six games by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.
This should not have been the case. After all, the Penguins had one of the sharpest goalies in the league in Marc-Andre Fleury, or so they thought.
Fleury had made his reputation during the 2009 playoffs, when he backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in that series, and Fleury's last-second save against Nicklas Lidstrom's short blast sealed the championship for the Penguins.
But that championship is ancient history now. Since then, three champions have been crowned and the Penguins have won just one playoff series.
As a result, the Penguins have changed their goaltending dynamic in the offseason.
Instead of having Fleury and a clear backup in Brent Johnson, the Penguins have brought in a long-time starter in Tomas Vokoun to take the role of backup.
Vokoun, 36, has played 44 games or more in every season since 2002-03. He has been the No. 1 goalie for the Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. Vokoun had a 2.51 goals- against-average with a .917 save percentage last year for the Caps.
Now that he's moving to Pittsburgh, he will no longer be a No. 1 goalie.
However, he will give head coach Dan Bylsma a more accomplished option in net than he had when Johnson was the backup.
Last year, Johnson had more than his share of difficulties. He had a 3.11 goals-against-average and a .883 save percentage. That's simply not good enough for a competent backup goalie.
But the big issue for the Penguins is not Vokoun or the departed Johnson. It's Fleury. His playoff performance the last three years has been subpar.
He had an .891 save percentage in 2010, an .899 save percentage in 2011 and a dreadful .834 mark last spring against the Flyers. He gave up 26 of the goals that the Penguins allowed (source: TribLive.com).
That's not going to cut it. The Penguins may not be ready to part ways with Fleury, but they are no longer willing to live with his poor playoff performances. If he struggles in the first two games of next year's playoffs or has a disappointing regular season, Bylsma won't hesitate to switch goalies.
Both Fleury and Vokoun are professionals. They know that the NHL is a bottom-line business and that it's always about winning. So when it comes to co-existing, they should do very well together.
The presence of Vokoun gives the Penguins a much better chance of winning. He should also push Fleury to a much higher performance level.
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