Soon-to-be NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin has been mostly invisible and has just one even-strength point in the first three games. He hasn't just been outscored by Flyers star Claude Giroux (four goals, four assists). He's been outscored by the man largely responsible for checking him, rookie Sean Couturier (three goals, one assist). He's been a shocking no-show.
"I don't think any one of the 20 guys in this room has had a good series," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
No argument here.
"We've been playing terrible [defense]," center Jordan Staal said. "I feel bad for
Again, no argument.
But that doesn't change the harsh truth. Most of the blame has to fall on Fleury. That's the nature of his position. During the season, he was the biggest reason the Penguins won 51 games and finished with 108 points. But when the team loses three consecutive games in the playoffs and allows 20 goals doing it, the goaltender has to take the heat. Fleury has been so bad that coach Dan Bylsma replaced him Sunday with Brent Johnson at the start of the third period, even though Johnson has been bad all season.
Fleury probably should have been benched after the first period, when he fished four pucks out of his net. Bylsma said he gave it consideration - "There were some [early] goals that you obviously want back" - but there were too many power-play and penalty-kill situations in the mayhem-filled first period to make a move. A change almost certainly wouldn't have won the game, anyway. Johnson gave up a goal on the first shot he saw - just 27 seconds into the third period - when Giroux was left alone in front.
It's hard to say one goal is a killer in an 8-4 game, but the first one Fleury allowed was. It came fewer than three minutes after Staal had given the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
Fleury tried to cover a loose puck with his glove hand and knocked it into his net. The Flyers' Max Talbot got credit for the goal.
"It was stupid. I screwed up. I don't know how or why," Fleury said. "But I still felt good. I knew we had a good start. But they just kept coming."
These Flyers have been doing it all series. They aren't just a bunch of dirty players. They are very talented and don't get down about anything. The Penguins score? So what? They figure they'll get the next one and then get it done. Quickly.
That's been Fleury's biggest problem. As bad as his defense has been, he hasn't been able to make the big saves to bail out the mistakes.
Talbot answered Staal's goal, and Matt Read answered one by the Penguins' James Neal 23 seconds later. Wayne Simmonds answered Staal's second goal just 3 minutes, 34 seconds later.
Fleury needed to make the strong save to keep the Penguins' momentum going but couldn't do it. Bryzgalov has had a poor series, but Fleury hasn't been able to make him and the Flyers pay for it.
If there's anything that is encouraging - and this is a reach - Fleury rebounded to play great after he was benched in a big playoff game. He was pulled during a 5-0 loss in Game 5 to Detroit in the 2009 Cup Finals and came back to win Games 6 and 7, 2-1, as the Penguins took the Cup.
Bylsma made a curious statement when he was asked about Fleury starting Game 4 Wednesday night.
"I know Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be the guy in our net in the next four games," the coach said.
At least one more anyway.
Contact Ron Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.