Marc-Andre Fleury is having a stellar year. The kind of year that would get anyone noticed. One that includes setting a franchise record in shutouts and raising his personal bests in some seriously tough categories like save percentage of high danger shots as well as penalty kill save percentage. But his name isn ?t even in the Vezina conversation.
Because unfortunately for the Flower he ?s having a career year at the same time Carey Price is having one too. As the Montreal Canadiens became the first team to reach 100 points on the season, you can bet 75% of that was thanks to Price and his stellar play. Stellar play that still saw him take six weeks to catch up to Fleury ?s nine shutouts on the season mark, and Pittsburgh’s goaltender isn ?t even mentioned in any of the conversations around the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best goaltender each year.
While Price is nearly a lock to win this year ?s Vezina (and has a pretty good shot and being tabbed the league-wide MVP) there is no reason Fleury shouldn ?t be a nominee. His Low Danger goals number is better than Price, illustrating that while the Canadiens’ netminder makes some of the more acrobatic saves, Pittsburgh’s makes the saves any goalie should be able to make more often, illustrating dependability. Meanwhile, the two netminders’ High Danger goals against and shots faced are nearly identical, again proving that Fleury has what it takes to get his name on the Vezina ballot.
This great play can be traced back to the addition of new goalie coach Mike Bales, who has done wonders for the game of Marc-Andre Fleury — from grooming his glove hand into a Venus fly-trap to improving his side-to-side mobility. The man in the cage is no longer this team ?s liability but their backbone and it’s such a shame no one outside of the state of Pennsylvania seems to see that.
Meanwhile, Kris Letang has defied the odds of medicine and the human body to come back less than one year after a stroke (and discovering a hole in his heart) to play the best hockey of his life. Of course, people are talking about him winning the Masterton for perseverance and he ?s already secured the Pittsburgh chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association ?s nomination. What ?s been most impressive though isn’t coming back. It ?s the level he ?s back playing at, a level that saw him playing 30 minutes in a game multiple times this season when one of the biggest adjustments to his post-stroke life is, as Letang put it himself, ?getting tired quicker. ?
Yet, when Adam Proteau wrote this impassioned piece about the Minnesota Wild ?s Ryan Suter deserving the Norris trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman each year, Letang didn ?t even make his afterthoughts list. Names like P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and Duncan Keith were all at least mentioned, but Kris Letang didn’t even get so much as a ‘thanks for playing’ from the hockey writer.
Yes, coming back from a stroke is incredible and no one should ever underestimate how tough that can be. But what’s equally impressive are Letang’s actual numbers, according to a chart drawn up and updated regularly this season by Hockeymeesh
Kris Letang has contributed to:
30 Powerplay Goals
33 Even Strength Goals
1 Penalty Kill Goal
Letang has been at fault for:
3 Powerplay goals*
14 Even Strength Goals
3 Penalty Goals**
3 Goals Were Scored on a Penalty he took
*goals scored when the Penguins have the man advantage
**goals scored when the Penguins are killing a man advantage
But what do these numbers mean?
Well if you add all the positives and subtract all the negatives they mean that Kris Letang has had, overall, a +41 impact (and I mean direct impact as in helped set up or mess up directly, not an arbitrary plus or minus) on the Penguins’ goal differential. So what, right? So, that number only has him behind four other players on his team’s roster. All of them forwards.
Not a single defenseman ?s season totals are even close to Letang ?s at this point, from his more than 25 minutes a game to his ridiculous 1.92 points per 60 minutes of play — which is okay for a forward (and better than 16 forwards who have played a game for the NHL Penguins club this season) and even better for a blueliner.
Paul Martin, arguably this team ?s second best defenseman, has showcased steady play all season. Everything from his hockey IQ and his stick on puck play is stellar, but he isn’t even close when it comes to a positive impact on his team ?s performance.
However, the best examples of Letang ?s impact can be found with a simple eye test. Games with incredibly lopsided outcomes show him still skating hard. It doesn’t matter if the team is going to win or lose by a touchdown to Letang, he gives 100% every shift and the impact that has to stop being overlooked.
So what gives?
Every year, one of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will make an NHL MVP or NHL best player list of some sort, if not both at the same time, but it ?s time the hockey community at large embraces the idea that the Pittsburgh Penguins are, believe it or not, more than just that amazing dynamic duo.
Sure part of this preconceived notion is due to the fact the organizational depth lately has been as shallow as a kiddie pool in the backyard on a hot August afternoon. And even with some of the great signings, draft picks, and trades by Rutherford early on, the team isn’t as deep down the depth chart as some others. But the biggest factor is that a surprisingly large amount of people just can ?t see past the big names on the billboard to the other, equally talented ones right next to and below them.
Fleury and Letang are still only two players and aren’t all this team has to offer. From the steal of the season in Blake Comeau to surprise rookie powerhouse Derrick Pouliot there are plenty of players on this team not named Crosby or Malkin worth mentioning for one reason or another. It would go a long way if people who don ?t regularly watch this team could see that, but then again maybe it ?s better if they ignore guys like Nick Spaling who had a casual 2-point night last Tuesday or Patric Hornqvist who racked up a goal per game for two weeks straight earlier this month.