Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
It has never once been said that hockey pundits are ones to give up their long-held beliefs.
Things like wins still matter a lot when it comes to Vezina voting, people still believe most careers were failures unless the player won a Stanley Cup, and the idea that a player can be "clutch" is still valued more than anything else once the postseason rolls around.
Case in point: Marc-Andre Fleury.
All we heard in the run-up to the playoffs was that the Flyers and Penguins were more or less each others' equals as far as the forwards and defense were concerned, and that the difference was in net. Ilya Bryzgalov: Fragile goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury: Big-game goalie. The Penguins, therefore, would win this series, even if it wouldn't be easy.
And now we sit here, nine-plus periods of hockey having been played between these two bitter rivals, and Fleury has been nothing short of shambolic. The stats don't speak for themselves so much as they roar from the mountaintops that this is a goaltender who's in so far over his head that the Roberto Luongo who faced the Blackhawks those few times looks as mentally secure as Fort Knox by comparison.
As netminders go, Fleury has been the worst in these playoffs by several country miles. He's the only one to start all three games and not earn a win (that's for all you old-schoolers out there). The worst save percentage of anyone. Worst goals-against average of anyone.
(Coming Up: Pekka Rinne is OK; James Neal is a punk; the Blues bench breaks; a way to get PK Subban to Edmonton; Bruins stars invisible vs. Capitals; Tortorella doesn't go crazy; huge off-season for Colorado; why Brent Sutter left; will Jackets go for Murray at No. 2?; Wild, Fletcher work on deal; Claude Noel's odd conversation with fan; Mike Green doesn't feel well; and why Canada's getting ready to cry.)
His current save percentage is .798, the lowest of any goaltender to make at least three appearances in a playoff since Jim Carey's worst-ever .744 in 97 minutes in 1996. Currently, his save percentage is bottom-5 ever. His current GAA is 6.34, the second-worst all-time among that same group behind Greg Stefan's 7.39 for Detroit in 1985.
You can chalk at least a good portion of that up to the Penguins' defensive systems completely breaking down in the thoroughest manner imaginable, but at the same time, he is redefining Cloutier-type softies we're used to seeing in the playoffs for a new generation.
How much longer before there are beach balls Photoshopped behind him?
And certainly, this must come as a shock to anyone who entered these playoffs considered Fleury as anything more than a slightly-above-average goaltender playing behind a typically-strong defensive team. Of course, even Fleury's biggest detractors would not have predicted, well, anything like this. But the signs that he's by no means a Great Big-Game Goaltender have been around for years.
If you looked at any of his postseasons at random, the odds are you wouldn't want your goaltender putting up numbers like that. Yes, he was spectacular in the Penguins' run to a Game-7 loss to Detroit in 2007-08, posting a 1.97/.933 line. That playoff, his second in the NHL, went a long way to coloring everyone's idea of his abilities to rise to the occasion like few other in league history. His winning the Stanley Cup the next season despite decidedly sub-average numbers of 2.61/.908 did little to help, especially as he allowed a combined six goals in the Penguins four wins in the Finals (which made it very easy to ignore the 11 against in three losses).
Thus he established his reputation as unimpeachable rock at the back, even as his performances the next two postseasons were shockingly poor. Save percentages of .899 and .891, respectively. Goals-against averages of 2.78 and 2.52. A total of just 20 games played. Disappointing performances for both team and player, who by the way makes $5 million against the cap, and yet none of it stuck to him.
It must be nice for Fleury: Three straight years of subpar performances following a good one and one in which you win the Stanley Cup despite not being good, and you're clutch forever. Doesn't matter how many stinkers you turn in during that time (and if we consider allowing three or more as a bad performance for a clutch playoff goaltender, the answer is 15 out of 23).
But again, hockey types don't usually like to change their beliefs very much, and I'm not sure how many embarrassing goals it takes to change their minds. Maybe this abysmal, all-time-historically-bad performance against the Flyers will dispel the belief that Fleury has been — at any point aside from one spring four years ago — something he's not.
Namely: Good in the playoffs.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Saku Koivu won't play in the World Championships next month, specifically because he's trying to work out a new contract with the Ducks. This article also reminded me that Saku Koivu is 37 years old, which is pretty amazing.
Boston Bruins: If someone would like to alert Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and Brad Marchand that the playoffs have begun, the team would really appreciate it. Imagine if someone told you a week ago that Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot would be carrying the water offensively.
Buffalo Sabres: "Sabres undone by losing mentality." Also, iffy roster, undue expectations, terrible offseason signings, and a bad coach.
Calgary Flames: Interesting article about Brent Sutter here. You'll recall he listed "philosophical differences" as his reason for leaving the team, which makes this quote terribly fascinating: "I had three years there. You're right that it's a hard thing (squeezing into the playoffs). Jay [Feaster] should be able to bring in his own guy. Jay and I never had a discussion about a rebuild (tearing it down), just getting more young players into the lineup. The word rebuild, though. Never used." So now I officially think Jay Feaster intends to continue trying to get into eighth, which is hilariously misguided.
Carolina Hurricanes: Speaking of NHL guys coaching for Canada at the World Championships, Sutter got the top job, and Carolina coach Kirk Muller will be an assistant, along with Guy Boucher. So, uh, don't expect Canada to play run and gun hockey.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Bollig drew into the Blackhawks lineup as a way to prevent guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane from getting run, but he added some offense as well on Saturday night. He scored Chicago's second goal, and in doing so also picked up his first-ever NHL point. Not a bad way to do it.
Colorado Avalanche: This will be a terribly important offseason in Denver. With Joe Sacco back under contract, will the team increase payroll to pursue big-name free agents? Probably not. Will it wait for its strong youth core to continue improving? More likely. Taking all expiring contracts into consideration, they have about $50 million in cap space and only seven guys signed for next season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Might Columbus end up drafting defenseman Ryan Murray second overall at the draft in June? They might just. Murray also may or may not have been invited to play for Team Canada at the World Championships, to give you an idea of his NHL-readiness.
Dallas Stars: Brenden Morrow sure hopes he won't be as injured next season as he was in this past one. He played in just 57 games for Dallas, scoring the second-lowest goal total in his career (11). His one worse year, when he scored five, came because he played only 18 games.
Detroit Red Wings: What a shot by Henrik Zetterberg. The no-look is massive. Whoa.