In a City where winning is the only way to play, starting off at 2-3, including a 1-3 record in the brand new $321 million Consol Energy Center is anything but a solid start for the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins. When a team with two of the top players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and has such high expectations starts off this poorly, someone has to take the blame. It won’t be Power Forward Jordan Staal or two of the top defensive players Brooks Orpik or Zbynek Michalek being out with injuries or the fact that the powerplay comes in tied at 19th in the league at only 14.3% conversion rate. It’ll be the play of the goaltender. Everyone’s favorite player when they win but their worst enemy when they lose a few games.
If you follow the Penguins at all, we know that Marc-Andre Fleury, drafted first overall by the Pens in 2003, has had an up and down career thus far, at least according to the fans. When things go right, Fleury is appointed the next Patrick Roy and the fans love him. But when the team struggles, fans call for his job and demand he get traded. It gets so out of hand in fact that when something goes wrong in the world of sports around the ‘Burgh, it has to be ‘The Flower’s’ fault. So when the fans see something wrong, they want a change and they want it now. Who’s the person they suggest to turn to for a quick fix? Enter Brent Johnson, Fleury’s backup from 2009.
Let’s compare stats shall we:
Player A – 0-3 record, 3.41 Goals Against Average, .853% Save Percentage
Player B: 2-0 record, 1.48 Goals Against Average, .945% Save Percentage.
Common sense tells you to start Player B right? Well according to Pittsburgh Penguins fans, that seems to be the popular vote. Player A of course is Fleury and Player B is Johnson and i’m here to tell you that in this case, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fleury lost opening night at home against the hated reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Philadelphia Flyers and lost 3-2. Fleury then gave up 4 goals, the last of which the weakest goal I have ever seen given up by him and took the loss against the Canadiens. Did I mention that the Canadiens are the team the Flyers defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals last year? Fleury once again came up with a loss, allowing 4 goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The undefeated Maple Leafs that is.
Johnson has played two below average opponents so far in his victories against the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders. The Devils only had 15 skaters due to salary cap issues from the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, as well as injuries to Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston. I believe the Devils will turn it around but they are only 1-3-1 and have a dismal 9 goals on the season. By the end of the game, the lack of players caused the Devils to tire out which made for an easy victory for Johnson. As far as the Islanders go, they were without arguably their 3 top players in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit and still managed to take the Pens into overtime. If you follow the NHL at all, you know that teams lick their chops when they see the Isles on their schedule.
Combined record of Fleury’s opponents; 8-2-2. Combined record of Johnson’s opponents; 2-4-3. There is a reason Coach Bylsma played Johnson against the weaker opponents.
The thing people need to realize is that backups hold that position for a reason, they can’t carry a team as the number one man. Fleury is no Roberto Luongo, but he isn’t a Patrick Lalime either. Fleury is a 25 year old top 10 goaltender who has yet to hit his prime! If you want a 33 year old with a 123-100-13 record, then Johnson is your man. Myself, i’ll take the franchise goalie that Fleury is and his 148 wins. They didn’t pay him $35 million to bench or trade him. The season is young and there are 77 games left to be played, so the best thing to do is let him get his confidence back and the play will follow suit.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com