Is the Flower wilting?
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Q: If the Penguins lose this series, doesn't the blame have to go to Marc-Andre Fleury? The Pens have outshot the Capitals every game and the series is tied, 3-3. (In Game 6), they had 18 more shots and lost.
Fleury needs to be better than this for the Pens to advance.
Joe Kleca, Allentown
MOLINARI: Wow. If the Capitals attack Fleury during Game 7 with the same fury denizens of the Q&A did in the hours after Washington's 5-4 overtime victory Monday, the Penguins' season is pretty much certain to end tonight. The Great Wall of China couldn't withstand the kind of attack Fleury was subjected to in the wake of that defeat.
E-mails skewering Fleury for Game 6 his performance, his big-game history and just everything else except his choice of socks poured in from every part of the continent -- some precincts in more distant parts of the planet still hadn't checked in as of this writing -- and figure to continue right up until the opening faceoff tonight.
(So far, there haven't been any demanding that Mathieu Garon get the Game 7 start, but there likely are at least a few headed this way. When the volume of traffic is high enough, even the information superhighway can get a bit clogged.) There's no question that Fleury has not had the his best series of his career, but that's not a bad offensive team he's facing. Even casual fans were aware of Alex Ovechkin long before Game 1, and people who pay attention to the NHL should have been familiar with the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, although the latter was pretty much a no-show in the series until Monday.
To give Fleury sole responsibility for what happens to the Penguins in this round -- or, more to the point, blame if they are eliminated -- would be not only unfair, but inaccurate. How about the guys who have taken needless penalties that led to Washington goals or, at the very least, disrupted momentum for the Penguins? How about Chris Kunitz, who plays on Sidney Crosby's line but hasn't scored a goal? How about the defenseman who allowed Brooks Laich to completely block Fleury's line of sight when Semin scored Washington's third goal Monday, and didn't tie up David Steckel well enough to deflect in the game-winner? And that is just a tiny sampling, not a comprehensive list.
This is a team game, and clubs generally don't advance because of the efforts of one man (if they did, Crosby would have propelled the Penguins into the conference final already) or have their season ended because of the shortcomings of another.
If the Capitals win tonight, Fleury will receive -- and deserve -- a portion of the blame, regardless of how he perfo rms in Game 7.
Goaltending is the most important variable in almost every series, and the goalie for the losing team in a series between evenly matched opponents shouldn't expect to get a pass.
However, holding Fleury solely accountable for the Penguins' failure to wrap up the series Monday night -- when the odds of doing it should have been far greater than they will be this evening -- if not earlier, requires focusing the blame in a far more narrow way than it should be.
(And for the many e-mailers who raised the issue, no, losing Game 7 wouldn't change the Penguins' long-term commitment to Fleury as their go-to goalie. Decisions on core players aren't based on the results of a single game, or a single series. Unless Fleury gives up 24 goals tonight, and shoots seven of those into his own net, he will be the guy in goal for their next game, whether that's in the Eastern Conference final or the 2009-10 opener.)
Q: Can a team challenge a player's stick after a goal is scored, and if so, can they take the goal away?
Jason Fonner, Wheeling, W.Va.
MOLINARI: Rule 10.5 permits teams to request a stick measurement during any stoppage in play (except the one that follows an overtime goal), but even if a stick checked after a goal is scored is found to be illegal, that goal will not be disallowed.
First Published May 13, 2009 12:00 am