Stop Overrating Marc-Andre Fleury by @BrianK_PI - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Stop Overrating Marc-Andre Fleury by @BrianK_PI

The old sports adage is that a starter shouldn't lose their job due to injury, but the late Al Davis put it best when he said "just win, baby". Incredulously, there has been a loud enough minority that firmly believes in the former motto to the point that they're clamoring for Marc-Andre Fleury to return to the Pittsburgh net, and they've been doing so since he was cleared for game-action following a concussion that caused him to miss the end of the regular season. This despite the fact that Matt Murray has been one of the postseason's best goaltenders with a 0.935 SV%, 2.05 GAA average, and 7-2 record in his 9 starts. These people actually believe that a rusty Fleury would give the Penguins the best chance to win, and there's only one thing to say to these people: stop overrating Marc-Andre Fleury.

This isn't meant to tear down Fleury, as he's a good goalie in his own right. He posted career bests in save percentage (0.921) and GAA (2.29) this year, while his 5 shutouts are second only to the 10 he registered last season. His game has been vastly improved by working with goalie coach Mike Bales, and he's much more consistent than he was previously. There's no reason to believe he wouldn't perform well if thrown between the pipes, but this is the same fanbase that argues year in and year out that he should be included in the Vezina conversation, if not calling for him to win it outright. There are segments of the fanbase that conflate Fleury's performances with those of the elite goaltenders in the leauge, but he's just not at that level.

The irony of the situation, of course, is that the people loudly calling for Fleury to return to the starting lineup want to push aside a goaltender playing at an actual elite level to do so. Matt Murray had a dominating season last year in the AHL and continued that high level of play into 2015-16. When facing NHL action, he responded with a 0.930 SV% and 2.00 GAA in 13 starts before offering further proof in the postseason that his play can back up those numbers. At 6'-4", he's a bigger goalie with good athleticism, good technical fundamentals, and a great demeanor. Murray certainly hasn't looked out of place so far in the playoffs, and if anything the playoffs weren't ready for him. He's the first rookie goaltender to bounce a Presidents' Trophy winning team since a 23-year-old Mike Vernon pulled it off for the Calgary Flames in 1986 against Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers. And when arguably the greatest goal scorer of his generation is crediting Murray for the reason why the Pens were so tough to go up again, there's smoke to that fire.

And while Fleury's season on the whole was the best of his career, he certainly found more success under Mike Johnston's extreme defensive focus than he did under Mike Sullivan's system that opened things up offensively and in transition. In 24 starts under Johnston, Fleury had 0.927 SV% and 2.21 GAA. Under Sullivan, those numbers slipped to a 0.916 SV% and 2.34 GAA in 34 starts. It's important to note as well that Murray never appeared in a game under Johnston, so the later set of numbers is a more appropriate comparison to the 0.932 SV% and 2.02 GAA that Murray has registered in 22 total starts. It just further differentiates the level the two netminders have played at this year, and just how good Matt Murray has been in net.

Marc-Andre Fleury is a good goaltender, but he's not a must start, and certainly not when his replacement is at times single-handedly pushing the Pens over the top to victory. Matt Murray might only be 21-years-old, but he has played with the composure of a 21 year veteran through the first two rounds. He's given no reason to believe that the bottom is going to fall out, and his current level of play provides Pittsburgh a better chance to win games, especially considering that Fleury would need to knock off the rust if he hopped in net. Anyone legitimately thinking that Fleury would come in and perform better than Murray has through the first two rounds needs to do just one thing - stop overrating Marc-Andre Fleury, because a rational look at the situation finds nothing to suggest a controversy in net.

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