Tomas Vokoun will start for the Pittsburgh Penguins in goal Wednesday night but head coach Dan Bylsma recognized goaltending is not his team’s biggest problem when he laid out what he expects from Vokoun.
“Looking for a solid game from our goaltender,” Bylsma said after the Penguins’ game-day skate several hours before Game 3 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference final. “We got that from Tomas in every game he’s played. He’s done that for us. We don’t need perfection.”
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What the Penguins need is for their top two lines to snap out of their collective funk that has allowed the Boston Bruins to roll to a 2-0 lead in the playoff series while outscoring the NHL’s mightiest offensive machine 9-1. The only reason Vokoun was pulled in the first period of Game 2 after the Bruins took a 3-0 lead was the Penguins needed a shakeup and a jolt from their home crowd, which was stunned into silence by their collapse.
Vokoun, who took over from Fleury after he played abysmally in the first four games of the first round against the New York Islanders, was not at fault on any of the goals. Indeed, he is one of the few Penguins who can say he did his job in the first two games.
But such is the nature of the position that a large media crowd tracked every move made by Vokoun and Fleury at the Penguins’ morning skate Wednesday for signs of who would start in the evening. Finally, Vokoun left the ice first, which is the time-honoured signal among NHL teams of that game’s starter.
However, since Bylsma is one of those coaches who cannot abide sharing his lineup choices before the game, no one was sure until Vokoun gave the word himself when reporters were allowed into the dressing room.
Even if the Penguins manage to come back and win this series, a decision on Fleury’s future with the team lies ahead. He is only 28 years old but ever since he saved the Penguins’ Stanley Cup win in 2009 by making a spectacular save on the Detroit Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom in the last second of the seventh game, Fleury has not been the same goaltender.
His regular-season work has been decent enough but the playoffs, where the Penguins have not advanced beyond the second round since that Cup win, are a big problem. Penguins general manager Ray Shero acquired Vokoun from the Washington Capitals last summer because he wanted insurance against Fleury’s baffling inconsistency in the playoffs.
Fleury has two years left on his contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $5-million. That contract should be easy enough to trade but Shero and his staff will need to decide if Fleury has a future in Pittsburgh, especially if he does not get back into the net before the playoffs end.
As for the line juggling and lineup changes Bylsma promised on Tuesday, nothing was forthcoming on that front. Forwards Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla and defenceman Paul Martin were given the morning skate off, so none of the line combinations at that session meant anything.
At this point, the only obvious change would be to move Iginla from left wing on Malkin’s line to the right side. Bylsma has insisted on playing Iginla, 35, on the left since he arrived in Pittsburgh, even though he’s played on the right for most of his 16 NHL seasons. There is also a chance rookie forward Beau Bennett or veteran forward Tyler Kennedy could get back in the lineup but it is not clear who they would replace.
What the Penguins have to do to get back in the series is break the shackles the Bruins put on their between the blue lines. Their ability to control play in the neutral zone with their checking is putting the Pittsburgh offence into a stall before it can even get in the offensive zone.
“Most of the game or great portions of the game have played in the neutral zone,” Bylsma said. “There hasn't been a lot of offensive zone play by either team in either game, and we'd certainly like to change that and get to the offensive zone a lot more.”