Weekend Wrapup: Pens Lose To Rangers And Predators, Aaand We’re Back To Blaming Fleury

This past weekend, the Penguins lost in overtime to the Rangers and in a shootout to the Predators. I will begin by blaming Marc-Andre Fleury for a poor weekend, first for giving up an overtime winner to Olli Jokinen on a very standard wrist shot from the right circle, and next for allowing three goals to Nashville on three separate non scoring chances, followed by a far more excusable but still moderately disheartening two goals on two Predators shootout attempts to forfeit a potential second point.

But wait! Time for the obligatory, redundant paragraph about Fleury not being the only one to blame! Even though no results in hockey can be solely blamed on one single source, unless you’re solely blaming, say, Marty McSorley for single-handedly slashing a dude in the head. The Penguins did indeed play a thoroughly uninspired second period against the Rangers and ultimately allowed 39 shots in the contest even though Marian Gaborik left the game after two shifts. Losing to the New York Rangers without Marian Gaborik is as pathetic as losing to the Gaborik Family without Marian Gaborik, but this still wouldn’t excuse Fleury for giving up an overtime winner on an unscreened wrist shot from Gaborik’s Mom.

Likewise, the Nashville game wasn’t without some giant red finger-pointing targets of its own; the Penguins failed to score on a 2-minute, 4-on-3 overtime powerplay, took seven penalties of their own, and threw in another godawful second period (outshot 15-8) for good measure. Furthermore, the Pens’ offense seemed largely uninspired for extended periods against the undermatched-on-paper Predators and Rangers; the once-dominant Staal third line didn’t turn in any of its standard full-minute-of-cycling shifts in either game, Crosby and Malkin snatched some points but didn’t play in any manner one might confuse as dominant, and Kris Letang continued his disturbing trend of pinching really far into the offensive zone, barely helping the Pens’ rush, and immediately causing a troublesome odd-man-rush back the other way (or a 2-on-2 where one of the Pens’ guys back is like, Mike Rupp).

Sure, the Penguins lost these games for a number of reasons. But things in hockey always happen for a number of reasons, so qualifying any criticism of Fleury’s poor play over the weekend with a “but it wasn’t all his fault” defense is redundant and unnecessary. Obviously it wasn’t all Fleury’s fault. But he still played really, really poorly, especially coming off the heels of an encouragingly dominant game against the Islanders, and it cost the Penguins at least one, and likely two points.

I’d also like to clarify a fact that often gets muddled in these heated postgame message board blame-fests: Criticizing Marc-Andre Fleury’s play isn’t the same thing as criticizing Marc-Andre Fleury.

Seth at Empty Netters, with whom I frequently across-the-board agree, wrote the following rant against Fleury naysayers in his Rangers game wrapup:

-The goal by Jokinen wasn’t Fleury’s finest moment. He needs to make that save. Period. It doesn’t matter if he had acres of ice to gain the zone. Fleury should’ve made that save.

-That said, for those naysayers who will jump all of Fleury and suggest he’s not a legit top-level goaltender, you’re wrong. You can’t just luff off the fact that he won a Stanley Cup as some minor detail. He’s an elite goaltender who had a bad moment. You can’t point out a bad goal in a mid-February game and sum up what he’s all about.

Granted, this ultra-defensiveness is assuredly directed at online extremists who exist to blow everything out of proportion, but it’s a largely misguided defense; Fleury factually is not playing well right now, and factually has not played well for a while (save the Islanders game). That doesn’t mean that we should want him replaced, or that he didn’t literally win the Stanley Cup a season ago, or that he’s not capable of playing at an elite level. But it’s still undeniable that he hasn’t been on top of his game, and he’s going to have to play much, much better if the Pens are to have any hope of making noise in the playoffs.

Yes, we should tune out knee-jerk naysayers who want to throw Fleury overboard for allowing one goal to Olli Jokinen in one regular-season situation, but just because some people take the Fleury negativity to the extreme, that doesn’t mean that rational, logical criticism of Fleury’s recent play is therefore retroactively misplaced. If Crosby has a bad stretch of games, you can’t defend it by saying “Some people online think that we should trade Crosby right now, and that’s ludicrous.” That’s a separate argument. Obviously the Penguins can win a Cup with Fleury — They have. But just as obviously, he’s been giving up bad goals on an extremely regular basis, and it’s costing the Penguins points.

Fleury had a bad weekend. The Penguins had a bad weekend. They’ll move past it. In the meantime, we now have two weeks to enjoy some fast-paced, elite-level rooting for dudes to not get hurt.

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