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Goalie insurance

April 19, 2017, 11:50 AM ET [98 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Columbus Blue Jackets earned their first ever playoff victory in regulation in the team's 16 year history last night. More importantly it kept their 2016-17 season alive. The Blue Jackets outscored the Penguins by a score of 5-4. It brings Columbus' all-time playoff record to 3-11. The reason I bring up their all-time record is because of this amazing statistic

That gives you a little insight into the record and why it is what it is.

Last night it didn't matter. Columbus was able to put a five spot on the Penguins. Pittsburgh did apply heavy pressure during the second half of the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome their deficit like they did in Game 3.

It's the second game in a row where Marc-Andre Fleury has been a sub .900 goaltender. This was after his first two games of the series were splendid. This is classic Marc-Andre Fleury.

Finding objective analysis on Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending play isn't always an easy thing to find in Pittsburgh. It is even tougher during the farewell tour. The people who have contact with him will drown everything out with Fleury's affable personality, his smile, and his pranking ways. None of which are a negative. I repeat, none of those things are a negative. However, the more access somebody has to Marc-Andre Fleury the less capable they are of providing objectively accurate hockey analysis. The personality stuff becomes too much of a distraction from actual analysis. Separating human nature from on-ice performance is one of the benefits of using statistics. That is if judging on-ice play is what you are going for. However, once you strip away the personality traits from the equation it doesn't get much easier. Fleury is a high variance goalie. The highs are high and the lows are low. This is the reality of having Fleury in net for those of you that somehow forgot how this goes. He is wildly unpredictable. He has violent swings in the quality of his play. When averaged out those violent swings usually pan out to average looking numbers, but game by game the variance is high.

Statistically speaking Fleury is an average goalie. We have over a decade of statistics and information that show this to be the case. It's the way he gets to his average numbers that cause the wide chasms in perception about him. This leads to two very passionate sides of the argument. In the first two games against the Blue Jackets the highs were high and the last two games the lows were low.

After two playoff games Fleury was a .970 goaltender. After four games this is what it looks like when compared to all the other starters in the playoffs.

Not great when compared to his peers. He's one of the few fortunate goalies on the right side of the charts that is in blue.

As sure as the sun comes up every morning the day after a poor Fleury outing you'll hear complaints about the team in front of him. That isn't to say that some of those complaints aren't valid because sometimes they are. However, blaming the team for Fleury's performance is a double-edged sword. The Penguins are who they have been all season long. They are great at generating offense and not so great at suppressing scoring chances and shots against. Here is who the Penguins were in the regular season

And these are the numbers with Letang in the lineup for a majority of the regular season. Even with their best defenseman the Penguins weren't great defensively. This isn't anything new.

Pittsburgh makes up for their defensive shortcomings because they are incredibly gifted offensively. That is the trade off. The Penguins lead the playoffs in GF/60 in all situations and at even-strength. The Penguins led the NHL in both categories during the regular season as well. You can't blame goal support.

For Pittsburgh to stay offensively potent and improve defensively they were going to need money to find better players on the back end. They didn't have any money to do that. They chose to tie that money up in a backup goaltender. That's fine if the backup goaltender is capable of playing in the environment placed in front of him. Fleury's high-danger save percentage (and other save percentage metrics) track record says that he's probably not that guy. There is also a large enough sample of Matt Murray's play behind the same exact team that should dispel the myths and excuses why Fleury's numbers can't be better than they are. The team doesn't magically change how they play based on the goaltender in front of them. The Penguins are an equal opportunity provider for their netminders.

For 5.75M I don't want to hear excuses about team play. I want results. The point of insurance is to be covered when things aren't ideal. If the goals aren't on Fleury then what is the point of investing in the goaltender position in the first place? If the goals are unstoppable then why should the investment be made at the goaltending position and not in the players in front of the goalie to prevent those kinds of chances? I mean if the goalie can't stop it anyways who cares who is in net, right? What's the point of paying a premium if there is no gain to doing so? This is basic logic. So either the goalie doesn't matter or he does. If the goalie does indeed matter then I need more than below average to average for 5.75M.

If keeping Fleury as insurance was indeed the genius move that I have been led to believe by many publications, then I don't think it is too much to ask that he's not comfortably in the bottom half of various save percentage metrics during the playoffs, yet again.

Matt Murray isn't even skating yet so Marc-Andre Fleury will continue to start for the foreseeable future. He's going to give you starts like Games 1 and 2. He's going to give you starts like Games 3 and 4. That's who he is.

It's been over a decade and people still don't understand the ebbs and flows of Marc-Andre Fleury.

The tale of an average goalie with wild swings in game to game production. A risky proposition when talking about small sample sizes like the playoffs.

Thanks for reading!
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