The Pittsburgh Penguins are seven wins from a second straight Stanley Cup. Heading into Wednesday’s Game 3, they are tied 1-1 in the conference finals against the Ottawa Senators, the embodiment of boring … tedious … painful … sorry, defensive hockey, and they are doing everything they can to suck the life out of the Penguins.
The Senators can’t suck the life out of this column, however, as today we will focus on the race for the most valuable player honor. If the Penguins win the Cup, they have two clear candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy: Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin.
Sorry, Sidney Crosby, but you’ve got ground to make up if you want a piece of the award you stole from American hero Phil Kessel last year.
Who is more deserving? Fleury or Malkin? They play different positions but have excellent credentials, so let’s break it down as best we can while looking at what each player has done through two-plus rounds.
Fleury: He’s been very good and, at times, great. He has a .931 save percentage, two shutouts and a 2.32 goals-against average. He’s eliminated this year’s likely Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and last year’s Vezina Winner, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.
Malkin: According to NHL.com, he’s failed to make a single save this postseason. He has a flawless 0.00 GAA, but his save percentage is .000, tied for the worst mark in the league. There’s still time for Malkin to improve his goaltending numbers, but he’s been a literal zero in that area.
Malkin: He has 20 points in 14 games, which would be good for 117 points over 82 games. Malkin leads the league with 14 assists and seven points on the power play. He is not far off the pace that allowed him to reach 36 points and win the Conn Smythe during the 2009 playoffs.
Fleury: A total non-factor. He has failed to register a single shot on goal in 853 minutes of ice time. Even though he hasn’t been shooting and scoring, you’d think Fleury would be on the scoresheet as a playmaker, but you’d be wrong. He has zero assists, three fewer than fellow goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Malkin: How good is he compared to the rest of the players in the postseason? Malkin leads the league with 20 points, two more than Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf. He’s also far ahead of the field in assists. The closest players on his own team — Crosby, Kessel and Jake Guentzel — are six points behind Malkin.
Fleury: He’s third in save percentage and second among goaltenders remaining in the playoffs. He trails both Rinne and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson in goals-against average and is tied with Rinne and Cam Talbot of the Oilers for the league lead in shutouts.
Value to Team
Fleury: When Matt Murray suffered an injury during warmups before Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, that spelled trouble for the Penguins. Well, it was the Blue Jackets, so that injury turned a four-game series win into a five-game series win. But if not for Fleury, the Penguins would have lost to the Capitals.
Malkin: When Crosby went down in Game 3 against the Capitals, Malkin engineered a late-game comeback that forced overtime, although the Capitals would win that contest. In Game 4 without Crosby, Malkin had an assist in the Penguins win. But he hasn’t been the difference-maker the way Fleury has been.
Canadian or Not
Fleury: He was born in Sorel, Quebec, which is in Canada.
Malkin: He was born in Magnitogorsk, which is in Russia, which is not in Canada.
It’s sooooo close! Malkin has been the best forward in the postseason, and while Rinne has been the best goaltender, you can’t argue with Fleury’s value to his team. Malkin hasn’t had many off nights, if any; maybe Fleury had one against the Capitals, but that’s it.
But as was proven last year with Kessel and Crosby (or with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings in 2012), if the voters are given an opportunity to choose a Canadian over a non-Canadian, they will choose the Canadian.
So congratulations to Fleury on his mostly well-earned award so far this playoff season.