5 Reasons Why the Penguins Had to Bench Marc-Andre Fleury

Steve Rodenbaugh@rodeyslContributor IIIMay 9, 2013

5 Reasons Why the Penguins Had to Bench Marc-Andre Fleury

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    After struggling in last year's first-round matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers, a series in which he surrendered 26 goals in six games, Marc-Andre Fleury entered this year's playoffs seemingly at the top of his game and looking to improve on his disappointing playoff record of 12-14 since 2009.

    Unfortunately for the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles have continued as he has allowed 14 goals in the past three games. 

    While the Penguins as a team have struggled defensively against a younger and faster New York Islanders team, Fleury's performance in net has not been close to what he has shown in the past or what the Penguins will need to advance through the playoffs. 

    As a result, Dan Bylsma has decided to replace Marc-Andre Fleury with Tomas Vokoun, a move that could have far reaching implications beyond this season.

    Here are five reasons why starting Tomas Vokoun over Marc-Andre Fleury is the right decision.

1. Soft Goals

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    Through the first four games of the series, Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered 14 goals.

    Several of these goals, including the deciding goal in a 4-3 loss in Game 2 and the tying goal in Game 4, can only be described as "soft goals."

    Just as the Detroit Red Wings made shooting pucks wide of the net to create rebounds and bad bounces a priority during their Stanley Cup Final matchups against the Penguins in 2008 and 2009, the Islanders have adopted the same strategy and it has yielded great results. 

    With a reputation as an aggressive goaltender who likes to play on the edge of the crease and use his exceptional lateral movement to make highlight saves, Marc-Andre Fleury often relies more on his reflexes than his positioning.

    As a result, Fleury often overcommits to one side and finds himself out of position and unable to locate the puck when it is behind the goal line.

    While Marc-Andre Fleury has been sharp at times and shouldn't bear the full blame of the Penguins' struggles, these soft goals which have resulted from rebounds off the end boards or pucks simply thrown toward the net have been devastating for the Penguins.

2. Collapsing Confidence

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    As an accomplished goaltender with a Stanley Cup and a seemingly endless list of franchise records on his resume, Marc-Andre Fleury has enjoyed great success since arriving in Pittsburgh as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft.

    For better and for worse, Fleury's success and confidence have often gone hand-in-hand. As a result, the greatest predictor of Fleury's success is his confidence level which is reflected in how aggressive he is in challenging shooters and standing firm in the crease. 

    Based on his performance since Game 1, it is clear that Marc-Andre Fleury is not a confident goaltender and, whether they admit it or not, the Penguins players and management are having flashbacks to last year's collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers .

    Dan Bylsma must find a way to change the momentum of the series and perhaps a goaltending switch might be what's needed to finally create a sense of urgency for the Penguins.

3. Defeating the Forecheck

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    Throughout this series, the New York Islanders have been relentless on the forecheck and have consistently forced turnovers and converted them into scoring chances.

    While Marc-Andre Fleury has many strengths, handling the puck and making outlet passes are not among them. Fleury simply does not feel confident playing pucks behind his net and the Islanders have factored that into their game. 

    Conversely, Tomas Vokoun has proven to be adept at handling pucks dumped into the zone and quickly moving them up the ice which would help the Penguins' transition game which has been nonexistent at times throughout this series.

    From a strategic standpoint, putting Tomas Vokoun in net might be the key to defeating the Islanders forecheck and would help the Penguins create persistent pressure in the offensive zone and finally take control of the series.

4. Rallying Cry for the Penguins

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    While much has been made of Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff struggles, not nearly enough attention has been paid to the Penguins' inability to play a disciplined and defensively sound game.

    While Fleury's mishandling of the puck resulted in the game winning goal by Kyle Okposo in Game 2, the fact remains that the Penguins surrendered 20 shots on goal in the first period alone in Game 2. 

    In Game 3, the Penguins fell behind quickly as Penguin defenseman Simon Despres collided with Fleury causing a loose puck in front of the net which resulted in the first goal. 

    Later in the period, Matt Niskanen's failed clearing pass resulted in a turnover and a goal by Casey Cizikas on a one-time shot from the slot which Fleury had no chance to stop. 

    Although Marc-Andre Fleury has at times been his own worst enemy with bad-bounce goals and poor rebound control, the Penguins have not played well defensively in front of him for most of this series.

    Perhaps the feeling among the Penguins' core group of players that one of their own has been made the scapegoat for the team's playoff struggles may create an "us against the world" mentality and sense of urgency on a team that has only shown a sense of entitlement thus far in the playoffs.

1. Playing the Hot Hand

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    Aside from Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles against the New York Islanders since Game 1 of the series, a strong argument could be made that Tomas Vokoun should have been the starting goaltender from the beginning of the series.

    This season, Vokoun is 3-0 with a 0.90 GAA and a .970 SV% percentage against the Islanders. During his career, Vokoun is 17-7-1 against the Islanders with a 1.95 GAA and a .937 SV% and five shutouts.

    Given that Evgeni Nabokov is allowing 4.55 GAA and has a .846 SV%, which is the lowest among all playoff starting goaltenders and far worse than Fleury's 3.40 GAA and .891 SV%, it is clear that the Penguins will have the hotter goaltender in Game 5 and beyond.

    With two of the last three remaining games at home, the Penguins still hold the home-ice advantage and the stability that Tomas Vokoun figures to provide should give the Penguins and their fans peace of mind that switching goaltenders was the right decision to make.