The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL heading into the 2013-14 season, but there will be no championship celebration in the Steel City next June if the team's goaltending fails to improve.
The two players who will be tasked with giving the Penguins a strong performance from the game's most important position are Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun.
Both players have their strengths and weaknesses, but the decision on who should start in net should be based on these two goaltenders' postseason ability.
After all, each Penguins season with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is judged solely on playoff results.
When you look at Fleury's resume, the first topic of discussion is his mediocre-to-awful playoff performances from the past few seasons.
Following his good-but-not-great performance in the Penguins' championship run in 2008-09, Fleury has failed to finish a postseason with a save percentage above .900 and a sub-2.50 goals-against average.
Those kinds of numbers are tolerable in the regular season, when the Penguins' high-powered offense is able to overcome the team's goaltending mistakes and still win 40-55 games.
But in the playoffs, when the pace of the games becomes slower and defense is a bigger part of the game plan, Pittsburgh needs a goaltender who will steal games when its offense fails to produce.
Fleury isn't that type of netminder, as evidenced by the 43 goals he's allowed in his last 10 playoff games.
The more reliable goaltender is Vokoun, who—without a lot of postseason experience going into the 2013 campaign—played remarkably well between the pipes for Pittsburgh en route to the Eastern Conference Final.
Unlike Fleury, Vokoun can be trusted to make the important late-game saves when there's no room for error. Following a terrible performance in Game 2 of last year's ECF against the Boston Bruins, the 37-year-old was fantastic in the next two games, only allowing three goals on 64 shots.
Who should start the season in net?
Vokoun doesn't allow soft goals or a bad performance to ruin his confidence to the point where it significantly impacts his performance. He's mentally strong and able to bounce back quickly.
This is one reason why Bylsma can trust him in the playoffs more than Fleury.
Bylsma calls Fleury and Vokoun "best tandem in the league." Says Fleury will receive most of the playing time.— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) September 11, 2013
Crosby on Fleury: "We believe in him."— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) September 11, 2013
The ideal situation is for Fleury, a former No. 1 overall pick and current $5 million man, to take a firm grasp of the starting job.
However, his playoff meltdowns over the last two years and lack of confidence have made Vokoun the best option in net if Pittsburgh is going to accomplish its ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
There's no reason for Vokoun to start the new season as a backup. He's earned the job.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft. All salary information via CapGeek.