Price or Fleury?

I know most of you will say they’d take Carey Price over Marc-Andre Fleury in a heartbeat for the duration of their careers. Heck, I might be convinced to agree with you given Price’s potential.
My question is: Who is currently better? A 20-year-old Price or a 23-year-old Fleury?
and: Who would you rather start in the playoffs: A goalie who couldn’t handle the pressure in the 2004 WJHC as some claim, but was only the third goalie in NHL draft history to be chosen first overall and the second youngest goalie in NHL history to get 40 wins (Terry Sawchuk being the youngest), or a young goalie with no NHL playoff experience but who was chosen 5th overall and who has dominated in the AHL playoffs?

Before you decide, please arm yourself with some knowledge about how these two goaltenders have played of late. [Also, an offer of reconciliation with Habs fans.]

Fleury vs. Price (for this year, not the future)
The Pens and Habs are very similar teams. The Habs have more Goals For (but not by much), the Pens less Goals Against (but not by much). Both are in the Top 2 in the East for having scored more goals than they have let in, with the Habs currently leading by 6. I don’t think these 6 goals affect a goalie’s stats so much to be taken into serious consideration. If anything, it gives Price the slightest edge. Because it probably doesn’t (and a lot more calculations would be required, i.e. the specific games each have played in), let’s look at their stats at face value:

MAF: 30GP 16W 9L 1O
Price
: 37GP 20W 12L 3O

Could Fleury have gone (and go) 4-3-2 to tie Price (if not injured)? I’d say easily and better. But that’s speculation. So let’s stick with facts.

MAF: 16th (now surpassing Conklin) in the NHL with 2.50GAA. Also, 4th in the East.
Price
: 29th (14 spots behind Huet) in the NHL with 2.71GAA. Also, 11th in the East.

Fleury has also been playing some kind of monstrous hockey in his past 15 games, dating back prior to his injury. The team has been 13-2-0 in that span, with Fleury personally recording an 11-1 record during that span… Seriously! After enduring a terrible start from his team, Fleury and the Penguins have rebounded in a serious way. Even despite that atrocious start (going 8-11-2 in their first 21 until they turned their season around), Fleury is well above Price in this category of GAA. Price, for his part, has gone 11-4 in his last 15, nearly as amazing.

MAF: 13th in the NHL with 0.916SV%. Also, 7th in the East.
Price: 15th in the NHL with 0.915SV%. Also, 8th in the East.

Even-steven, given the success of both their teams. We cannot argue one way or the other, that is unless we want to listen to all the naysayers who say the Penguins have horrible defense (despite the blatant facts/stats that prove otherwise). If that is in fact the case as these people claim, then Fleury’s stats look all the more impressive… don’t they? (You logically can’t have it both ways!)

MAF: 4 shutouts in 30 GPs
Price: 2 shutouts in 37 GPs

MAF has single-handedly stolen 4 games, while Price has just twice in more games played.

*This next and final stat isn’t really valid because of Fleury’s limited outings and its irrelevance in the playoffs, but it’s the only other one of note from ESPN, and both goalies are phenomenal this year at it.

MAF: 3 for 3 in the shootouts. 100%
Price: 18 for 22 in the shootouts. 81.8% (Amazing, btw)

Fleury is first in the NHL (tied with Mike Smith, 6 for 6) and alone in first for the East.
Price is 4th in the NHL (Garon at 30 for 32 has a phenomenal 93.8 SV% and is one of the leading causes for Edmonton even having a shot at making the playoffs) and 2nd in the East.

Total Kudos to Price here. Shows maturity and confidence beyond his years.

From these numbers, what can we conclude about who is this year’s better goaltender? Be honest.

Next, take into consideration Fleury played a lot during the Penguins horrible start. Whereas Price played a scant few games early in the season, and has played during the time when the Habs have been amazing. Also, compare Price to Huet. Huet wins in every statistical way (except Shootout SV%). On a final note, notice that when Fleury plays in the game (for whatever amount of time), dating back before his injury, the team has 13 wins in 15 games, with Fleury 11-1… since a 5 game losing streak by the Habs when Price was in net (playing 55+ minutes in each game) from December 18th to February 9th, the Habs have gone 12-4 while Price has gone 11-4.

Who has been the better goalie during the last 15-20 games? If you really want, I could go into the SV% and GAA for each goalie during that span, but you all know the results would heavily favor Fleury.

From all of this, what can we conclude about who is this year’s better goaltender?

The question is who you would rather have going into this year’s playoffs. If the question is one of potential and straight up whom you would rather have, I know most of you, and I myself may be included, would pick Price in the long-term given how well he has performed at such a young age. But to his advantage, he had the benefit of starting his career on a phenomenal team, while Fleury was plunged into the worst team in the NHL. May that have broken Fleury’s spirits and harmed his development? Who knows. But I think his 40-win season last year shows he has overcome a lot since his NHL start and his 2004 WJHC ‘blunder’. [A quick aside: Many, including Wikipedia, claim Fleury has merely been a scapegoat for Team Canada’s failure that year. No, I wasn’t the one who wrote that on wiki! Let’s not forget that Team Canada blew a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd period, and as a team couldn’t win, while Fleury let in only 5 goals in 5 games in the tournament prior to the Gold Medal Game.] 

Back to the question of this year’s playoffs, I know most of you will still pick Price, especially all Habs fans. That’s fine. I did this in an effort to show you that Fleury is indeed an amazing goalie. He hasn’t won 13 of his last 15 games (or 11 of 12 depending how you want to calculate it) by pure chance. One could argue that the Pens are such a strong team that they make even a goalie like Ty Conklin look like an All-Star, but then I would counter with the exact same argument for Huet before his trade and Price now. Is that reasonable?

Many of you will also counter, wisely, that the playoffs are a different matter entirely. I agree. But, since we have no stats for Price in the NHL, and Fleury has limited experience (albeit some) against a vastly superior Eastern Conference winning Senators team who shell-shocked the green Penguins, regular season stats are all we have to go on. If you want to criticize Fleury for that 2004 mistake, then I can ask where Price was during his 4 years
in the WHL, where his team (with him in net) won only one playoff round, and where Price was below .500 in his first 3 consecutive seasons. [Yes, yes. The Tri-City Americans were a bad team, so then I guess the arguments about Fleury being terrible on the worst NHL team in Pittsburgh are still valid… right? NOTE THE SARCASM!] Yes, Price was amazing with a solid ‘baby Habs’ team (the Hamilton Bulldogs) in the AHL playoffs, but so was Antero Niittymaki with the Philadelphia Phantoms when they won their Calder Cup. He even won the Jack Butterfield Trophy (Calder Cup playoffs MVP) in 2005, just like Price did last year. Oh, and did I mention that at the 2006 Winter Olympics, while playing for team Finland, Niittymaki was voted the MVP of the entire ice hockey tournament!?!? But how has he fared on the Flyers in the totally different NHL, and especially in the playoffs? Well, that’s another story.

Some may want to make the argument that the Habs are looking a lot like last year’s Pens (what with sweeping 8 games from Boston, like the Pens did from Philly) who faced a quick exit due to their vast inexperience. I know Habs fans don’t want to think down those lines… for their sake, a Top 2 finish will likely see them face the Bruins or Flyers, two teams they would definitely beat in the first round. This could get their ball rolling, or they could find themselves up against a lot more than they could handle, and a performance like Price and the Habs had against the Sens in the 3rd period of that 7-5 victory could go a long way to shell-shocking the young Habs and their even younger starting goaltender. But, just as the Pens are trying to do this year, the Habs may bounce back next year to win the Cup in their ‘fated’ year.

All-in-all, I hope this doesn’t jinx Fleury and the Pens, as my articles and posts have frequently been followed with bad luck for the Pens (Crosby, Fleury, Hossa, Malkin, Conklin, Scuderi have all gone down with injuries or slumps, with only Gonchar an exception, knock-on-wood). Thus, I officially knock-on-wood to prevent any disasters befalling Fleury or the Penguins.

On a penultimate note, there’s been a lot of antagonism these days between Habs and Pens fans. It’s really quite ridiculous. There’s little logic in bashing each other’s team given our successes. I think a lot of this is apprehension or even doubt that stems from feelings of angst and dread over what the playoffs have in store for us. Neither team wants to be a no-show or underachieve. Both teams want to at least win a couple rounds and not have to consider their glorious season a failure due to an early exit. We are all proud fans and want our team to do the best. Securing first place in the Conference and home-ice until the Finals would go a long way towards soothing any distress, and it’s for this reason that I think we’ve all become ego-maniacal about the greatness of our team and the weakness of the ‘enemy’. All things told, we are the only two teams that have, to date, clinched a playoff spot in the East. That’s very commendable and we should both we quite pleased with this accomplishment, especially as both our teams have overcome a lot of adversity (though in completely different ways). Personally, I’ve always loved the Habs and if the Pens have the misfortune of failing to win the East, or have an early exit, I’ll be cheering for the Habs if they remain. I don’t care if this feeling is reciprocal, it won’t affect my opinion either way. But let’s face the truth, our teams will likely finish Top 2 in the East, and have to play 2 difficult, grueling playoff series’ (well maybe not if Montreal draws Boston) if we are to face each other at all, which would be in the Conference Finals. If that were to happen, I truly believe and have said so on numerous occasions as far back as mid-season that it would be a series for the ages. At that point, I’d say let the best team win and wish good luck to the victor in bringing the Cup back to the East.

To return to where it all began:

Who has had the better season? Marc-Andre or Carey?
Who is hotter right now?
Who is currently better?
Who would you rather start in the playoffs? A 20-year-old inexperienced Price or a 23-year-old Fleury with a hell of a lot to prove?