When the Pittsburgh Penguins decided not to trade long-time franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury this offseason, they entered the year with a problem a lot of teams would love to have.
Depending on how you look at it, doing so has worked out perfectly, or the Pens’ front office might have missed an opportunity in not pulling the trigger when they had the chance.
All though it’s hard to argue in favor of not moving Fleury when Pittsburgh started the season without Matt Murray, the recent play of their veteran goaltender could make you say that the team should have ‘sold high’ when they had the chance.
Fleury’s play hasn’t been bad, all season. When given the chance to be the ‘go-to guy’ at the start of the year, he played strong. But since Murray has returned, and even a bit before then, Fleury’s play has taken a noticeable drop.
It has come to the point to where Fleury’s numbers are not only the worst he has posted in his career, but it currently puts him near the bottom statistically in the entire league.
At this point, it has become abundantly clear that Fleury is uncomfortable with splitting the net with Murray. After so many years of being the number one, it is understandable if there is an adjustment period in having your workload decreased.
But is there something more to it than just a decline in play of Fleury? Could it be that the Penguins themselves don’t play as good when he is in the net as oppose to when Murray starts?
Obviously, it’s easy to look at each respective goaltender’s numbers and see the contrast difference. Murray is currently in the top ten in both Goals-Against-Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (SV%), while Fleury is near the bottom in the same categories among all qualified goaltenders.
One more in-depth look at their individual numbers before we dig a little bit deeper.
|Marc-Andre Fleury||Category||Matt Murray|
* All stats from Corsica Hockey, based on 5 on 5 play.
Again, no surprise. As of late, it doesn’t take advanced stats, of any level, to see that based solely on their own play, Murray is outperforming Fleury and is deserving of the de facto number one position.
No other goalie in the league right now, in fact, has a higher 5 on 5 SV% than Murray. Not Carey Price. Not Devan Dubnyk.
But again, this isn’t about just Fleury against Murray, more so an extra look at how the team has performed in front of them. And a look at the team’s themselves numbers while each respective goalie has been in net, stats that they don’t factor into, tells a surprising tale.
|Marc-Andre Fleury||Category||Matt Murray|
*All stats from Corsica Hockey, based on 5 v 5 play
Tells a pretty interesting tale, doesn’t it? Watch any which of the Penguins’ games the last few weeks, and the eye test tells you that they have played better while Murray is in net. The numbers overwhelmingly play in Murray’s favor.
Whether it be offensively, or defensively, it doesn’t matter, the meter has been swung completely towards when Murray is in net.
Pittsburgh gets more pucks on the opposing net, allow fewer shots on theirs, keep the opposition further away when shooting, and score at an overwhelming higher clip all when Murray plays.
Some of the numbers they have posted scream regression, such as the team’s shooting percentage, but for the meantime, the Penguins are a far better team when their young goaltender is in net.
Now enters the ‘chicken or the egg’ question, as you can certainly bet that they don’t intentionally play worse in front of Fleury, is it by pure bad luck that things have swung the way they have, or is it something their veteran netminder has done that has led to these numbers to be so against him?
It’s hard to believe that the Penguins will continue to score at the current rate they do when Fleury plays, eventually, they will start scoring more. That will help, some. If and when that does happen, Fleury still has to make the stop, in the end, something that he hasn’t been able to do consistently this year.
Fleury has had some rough patches throughout his great career with Pittsburgh, this will likely be nothing more than that. The only difference this year is that they not only a legitimate starter behind him, but a Stanley Cup winner (don’t forget, because it would be easy to do so, that Fleury backstopped a team to one as well).
A lightning rod for criticism at times, it would be easy to solely place blame on Fleury right now. He is allowing too many goals and putting the Penguins in tough situations that they haven’t been able to get themselves out of.
So while there is plenty to blame on Fleury, remember, hockey is a team sport, and at this point in the season, the Penguins as an entire unit has been underwhelming in front of him.