Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins

When the bells rang out in Nassau Coliseum to indicate that it was six-past-Fleury on Tuesday night, a very real question starting surfacing around the hockey world: who in the hell do the Penguins start in Game 5?

We now have our answer:

So what now? Is this the right call?

The numbers of late for Marc-Andre Fleury in the post-season haven’t been pretty. This was a note included in a press release from the NHL today:

Since shutting out Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 13, 2011, Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 6-10 with a 3.68 goals-against average and .864 save percentage in 16 postseason games. He has allowed four or more goals in 10 of those 16 games.

Insert awkward collar tug.

Those numbers include a Game 1 shutout of the New York Islanders this year, where the Penguins entirely out-classed the Islanders, who never snapped out of their deer-in-headlights trance. Fleury made 26 saves in that game.

Since then he’s given up four, four and six goals, including the kind we saw in playoffs last year against Philly.

There was “Okposo’s” in Game 2:

And there was Okposo’s in Game 4:

 And then there was this one to put the icing on the cake:

He’s been bad, we get it.

So consider:

If you start Vokoun, and the Penguins win…you’re going with Vokoun again in the next game. He’s your guy. This wouldn’t be a problem, because a win is a win is a win is a win to the fans, but when you look at your goalies’ contracts from an organizational standpoint, and one guy is putting five shmill in his jeans every year until 2015 (and the other makes $2M next year then can walk), you’d really really like for the guy you’re calling Your Guy to be the one in net as you make your Cup run, partially because you’re stuck with him. You’ve won a Cup with him before, he was in net for your great season, and by not going with him, you’re killing his potential trade value. You’re screwed a number of different ways.

If you start Vokoun and the Penguins lose… Then what? Worse, what if you lose a low-scoring game? I just can’t see another playoff game in this series ending 5-4, and you know Pitt is going to clamp down defensively, so then you’re in a position where you can start your starter who has been terrible, or you can start your backup (who is now coming off a loss) and possibly damage your relationship with said starter heading into next year.

And obviously, had you chosen to start Fleury, you’d be starting Fleury, and right now that’s a scary thought for a team that was presumed to be the Cup favourites, or at the very least, co-Cup favourites with Chicago.

Last season when Pittsburgh was scoring enough goals to win but losing because of goaltending, they felt they didn’t have a backup goaltender good enough to justify making the switch (it was Brent Johnson at the time), so in the summer they went out and got Tomas Vokoun for a song so they could have some peace of mind.

And while having to use your backup in playoffs and the phrase “peace of mind” rarely go together, we find ourselves at a place where that worst-case-scenario has come to pass, and you have to hit the panic button you bought.

Had Dan Bylsma had chosen to start Fleury again, he’d be doing it for relationships and future business, and not for the good of the team this year, and this year they have the type of roster that can win a Cup. They had to make this move, because you can’t say that every season, and you only get so many.

While it might create some drama down the stretch – is there any chance Vokoun wins, and they go back to Fleury? – you can’t continue plugging 29 in the crease when he’s playing like dog meat. You wouldn’t treat a player at any other position any differently.

At this point, your best case scenario is basically a high-scoring win so you can validate giving Fleury another chance to take the reins.

***

A couple more reasons the Penguins had to go with Vokoun: