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Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Goaltenders, New Result?

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New Goaltenders, New Result?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

For the top two teams in the Eastern Conference it will be a much different look on Thursday night. With their backs against the wall the #2 seed Montreal Canadiens (down 3-1) and #1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins (tied 2-2 with the #8 seed) will turn to their back up goaltenders for game five. Both teams have struggled mightily and while certainly not solely responsible, goaltending has been a major buggibo and has fallen under serious scrutiny over the past 48 hours.

The Pittsburgh Penguins organization has to be scratching their heads. GM Ray Shero pushed his chips all in at the trade deadline and by most accounts hit a home run in terms of the offensive talent he was able to amass. Goal scoring is all well and good but they forgot one critical element -- if you can't keep the puck out of your own net it doesn't matter how many goals your team has the potential of scoring. For as good as Marc-Andre Fleury has been during the regular season over the past five plus season he has been equally if not exceedingly worse in the post season. Deer in headlight is a understatement. 

What makes you really scratch your head regarding Fleury is he had been, up until two seasons ago, a pretty solid, if not elite playoff goaltender. During the Penguin's back to back trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 and 2008 Fleury was 30-14 with a .920 save percentage and goals against just north of two. In four seasons since that 2008 Championship season the same goaltender is 14-16 with a .881 save percentage and 3.13 goals against.

What is different? His regular season numbers are incredibly consistent both during and since those finals seasons. Yet, when those cup crazies come out of the wood works to kick off the second season the "Flower" we used to know and love plays softer than the nickname itself.

Pittsburgh will turn to Tomas Vokoun in game five. Vokoun had a very respectable regular season in his own right going 13-4 with a .919 save percentage and 2.45 goals against. He was particularly strong against the Islanders during the regular season, going 3-0 while stopping 98 of 101 shots. That is a .970 save percentage for those of you keeping track at home. If that is able to translate to the playoffs it could completely change the outlook of the series and playoffs moving forward.

For the Montreal Canadiens the change in net was not necessarily a move they got to make but more one that was made for them. The Canadiens announced this morning that goaltender Carey Price, who suffered a lower body injury during the third period of Game 4, will be out for the remainder of the series. Unlike the situation in Pittsburgh, the issue for Montreal was not that Price was underachieving but rather the team in front of him was spending more time in the penalty box than it was in the offensive zone. Regardless, like Pittsburgh, the Canadiens have a very capable back up in Peter Budaj.

Budaj finished the regular season with an 8-1-1 record along with a 2.29 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. While he does not have a ton of playoff experience (five games, 0-1 with a 4.00 GAA and an .887 save percentage in 2007-08 with the Colorado Avalanche), his regular season number this season suggest that the change in net might just give Montreal the shot in the arm it will need if it hopes to get out of the 3-1 hole.

For both Montreal and Pittsburgh the time is now if either wants to see their highly anticipated playoff runs extended beyond a one and done. Will the change in net be enough? All eyes and pressure will be on the top dogs in the East tonight.

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