Maple Leafs 4, Penguins 3: Fleury Gets Outplayed By Random Goalie Yet Again

Before we get to our first Complaining About Fleury entry of 2010 (someone have the champagne ready?), let’s get the obligatory pre-complaining about Fleury stipulations out of the way so that our rational, fact-based complaints aren’t misinterpreted as baseless whining.

Obligatory Pre-Complaining About Fleury Thing 1: Fleury Wasn’t The Pens’ Only Problem In This Game

The Pens got badly outhustled in the first half of the first period, and were extremely lucky to end up with a lead in the first place, particularly with 2 of their best defensemen out and the replacements playing cluelessly, their power play alternately not shooting and shooting directly into defenders, and their second goal coming off a gift turnover right next to the Leafs’ net.

Obligatory Pre-Complaining About Fleury Thing 2: The Shots Were High-Quality Chances

One of the goals came off a deflection from the point, one was a clean side-to-side one-timer, and one was put in by a wide-open guy in the slot. None of the goals individually were “bad” breakdown-type mistakes by Fleury (like the Scott Gomez game-winner Saturday night), and reflected as much about the Pens’ defensive effort as they did about the goaltending.

With those two necessary components to any complaining about Fleury post out of the way, let’s complain about Fleury:

The Maple Leafs scored 4 goals on 14 shots. FOURTEEN SHOTS. The Toronto Maple Leafs had fourteen shots on goal and four of them went into the goal. Four goals. Fourteen shots. Has this fact been made clear? No? Ok, I can keep going. Players in Toronto uniforms managed to shoot the puck (i.e., the rubber disc-shaped object that is this sport’s ball equivalent) onto the Penguins’ “net” (scoring area) fourteen times, and four of these times, the puck managed to get past the man whose job it is to tend said net. This is not ideal.

The Penguins had 15 shots on goal in the first PERIOD against the Flyers last Thursday, and Sergei Bobrovsky, in the first start of his NHL career, stopped them all. Many of them were of high enough quality that had they gone in, no one would’ve said “Bobrovsky really blew that one.”

Similarly, in the Leafs game, Jonas Gustavsson stopped several Penguin chances — a wide-open Dupuis one-timer, a Malkin Penalty Shot (which actually missed the net), and others — that, had they gone in, would’ve been completely acceptable goals to allow. To be successful in the NHL nowadays, goalies very often have to stop high quality shots that result from defensive breakdowns or turnovers or cleanly lost faceoffs or bad luck.

This makes for an incredibly high standard for goalies to live up to, but when Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, and Jonas Gustavsson are all doing it against the Pens, and the Penguins’ supposed franchise goaltender who makes more money than all three aforementioned players combined isn’t doing it, it’s a major concern.

Was the Pens’ defense at fault tonight? Of course it was — Andrew Hutchinson looked totally lost, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy continue to look like fringe NHLers, and Kris Letang continues to pinch up randomly and recklessly, and the Pens’ forwards offered little help in their own zone.

Even though two Leafs goals came right after faceoffs they won in the Penguins’ zone, I’m not gonna blame the Pens for their faceoffs; they only got out-faceoffed 25-21, and even the best faceoff guys in the league are gonna lose 40% of their draws in their own zone. Losing those couple faceoffs didn’t directly lead to the goals — all teams lose faceoffs in their zone every game — the Pens’ failure to get into defensive position afterward and for Fleury to see/stop the shots were the problem, not the actual draws.

Still, the facts are pretty elementary — no matter how badly the Penguins defense played, Fleury still allowed 4 goals on 14 shots, and that’s simply not acceptable for an NHL goaltender, let alone a franchise guy who’s making $5 million a year. In his three starts, he’s now been noticeably outplayed by Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, and Jonas Gustavsson. Fleury has to play better, period.

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