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Fair or not, Pittsburgh Penguins cannot ignore goalie controversy

Oct 29, 2010, 10:33 PM EDT

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fleuryandjohnson

At some point, you just have to throw out what should happen, what took place in the past and even the acknowledgment of dumb luck and just accept the obvious truth in front of you. The Pittsburgh Penguins are giving Marc-Andre Fleury every opportunity to succeed (and therefore take ownership of his hopeful place as the team’s No. 1 goalie) and he continues to fall short of the mark.

Is it completely fair to Fleury to blame him for an ugly 1-5 start to the season? No, not really. Every loss isn’t his fault, after all, as the team in front of him must be held accountable for each defeat as well. Still, the bottom line is that the team earned a point in every game backup Brent Johnson started (4-0-1) while only earning two points in six Fleury appearances (1-5).

Whether the team plays more responsibly for Johnson or Fleury is the victim of bad luck or tougher matchups, it’s blatantly clear that the Penguins need to ride the hot hand rather than attempting to appease their $5 million man. To be fair to Fleury, I thought I’d take a look at each goalie’s games to see if Johnson is the beneficiary of random luck more than anything else.

Inside Johnson’s numbers

@ New Jersey (Oct. 11): Johnson stopped 30 out of 31 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Islanders (Oct. 15): Stopped 22 out of 24 shots for the OT win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Philadelphia (Oct. 16): Stopped 29 out of 30 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. Ottawa (Oct. 18): Stopped 32 out of 34 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. St. Louis (Oct. 23): Stopped 23 out of 24 shots for OT loss. Pittsburgh scored zero goals.

So, overall Johnson allowed only seven goals in five games, stopping a stunning 136 out of 143 shots. The only time he lost, he did it in overtime and the Penguins didn’t give him a single goal to work with. The Penguins allow an average of 28.6 shots per game against Johnson, so it’s not like he’s getting an in-net vacation either.

Let’s compare those numbers with Fleury’s. (Warning: these numbers might get ugly.)

Inside Fleury’s numbers

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 7): Fleury stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Montreal (Oct. 9): Stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Toronto (Oct. 13): Stopped 10 out of 14 shots; he was pulled from this game. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Nashville (Oct. 21): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in OT win. Pittsburgh scored four goals.

@ Tampa Bay (Oct. 27): Stopped 26 out of 30 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 29): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to give Fleury the benefit of the doubt by simply looking at the numbers. Fleury stopped 126 out of 146 shots, allowing 20 goals in six appearances. While Johnson’s lowest single-game save percentage was 91.7, Fleury did not produce a single game with a save percentage above 90 percent this season.

On top of that, the Penguins are actually playing equal or better defense in front of him, at least from a shots allowed standpoint. (While getting pulled early from that game against Toronto might skew the numbers, the Penguins only allowed 24.33 shots per game against “MAF.”) Johnson experienced marginally better goal support this season (the team scored 16 goals in his five appearances and 16 in Fleury’s six), but hasn’t had any other obvious advantages.

Does this mean that Johnson stands as a better long-term answer than Fleury? No, not unless these trends continue. Simply put, though, their numbers are night-and-day right now. Rather than making the most comfortable decision by not upsetting their big money goalie, the Penguins should make the wise choice and see how much longer Johnson will continue this hot start.

That’s my opinion, though. What do you think the Penguins should do? Should they turn their goalie rotation into a temporary “1a/1b” situation? Do you think the Penguins should give Johnson or Fleury most of the starts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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