Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin suggested last week that despite the stats, he was going to trust his goalies for a playoff run this season. Turns out, he was worried like everyone else. Both Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen have had very Devan Dubnyk-like slides through February and March. Minnesota had just seven wins in the 19 games leading up to a big victory over the Boston Bruins and follow-up against the Chicago Blackhawks last week. However, the Wild are not blaming the masked men in net. Instead, they've opted for attempts to “tighten up” defensively or manage the puck better. Still, the biggest culprit was not getting a save when they needed it most.
That’s what propelled the Wild early this season. Remember the 6-5 OT win over the Winnipeg Jets in the third game of the season? Talbot wasn’t great in the game, giving up five goals on 30 shots for a .833 save percentage. Most nights, that kind of performance would doom a previous team early. However, this year's team used offense to bail their netminder out. Talbot provided two key saves to keep the team within striking distance. One was in the third period when the Wild were looking for the tying tally. The other was in overtime, which sparked a 3-on-1 break the other way for Joel Eriksson Ek’s game-winning goal.
Minnesota could bounce back because they knew they could get a clutch save or two with the game in the balance. That confidence in the goalies wasn’t there anymore. And Minnesota needed to find someone that can make a momentum-shifting save again.
Cue Marc-Andre Fleury. The Minnesota Wild have completed a deal to bring the former Stanley Cup champion and reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
If you're counting, that's one more ring as a starting goalie than the Wild have had in their existence. Can Fleury help the Wild? The answer is absolutely, yes -- that is, if he can re-discover his pre-Chicago form.
Fleury is a career .913 save percentage goalie but slipped to .909 this year. At his age, it’s easy to understand the trepidation of acquiring a player with so many years of wear and tear on his body. Then add in the barrage he was under night after night in Chicago, and he might just be broken -- just like his goalie stick on Sunday night after a disastrous 2nd period against the Jets.
But there’s hope for Fleury in Minnesota. The Wild are a much more structured team, similar to the Golden Knights teams he was accustomed to. Minnesota gives up 0.25 expected goals per hour fewer than the Blackhawks at 5-on-5 and also beat out any Vegas team Fleury played for. Plus, the Green ‘n’ Wheats control the play more often than not, thus keeping the puck on the offensive attack more than the Blackhawks have been.
Fleury can really help the Wild in the Central Division. Minnesota hasn’t had a great record against divisional foes not named the Arizona Coyotes this year, due in part to Talbot’s .893 save percentage against the Central. Kahkonen has faired a little better but has gotten the Coyotes twice en route to a .908. Combined, they have a .900 against teams in their own division. Take out Arizona, and the goaltending duo falls to .897. The Wild will likely square off against the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, or Colorado Avalanche in the first and second round. A sub .900 save percentage isn’t going to win Minnesota many games in the postseason, let alone a series.
Fleury has a .891 save percentage against the Central. Not great, and certainly not an upgrade until you take the Wild out of the equation. Minnesota has given him fits in these head-to-head matchups but won’t have to face the Wild now that he’s playing for them. Remove Minnesota, and that save percentage bumps up to .902. It’s not a huge jump, but the Wild should feel like it has a fighting chance to stand off the barrage from any of those division rivals.
Really, that’s all the Wild need – a feeling like they have a chance in the net. Both Talbot and Kahkonen haven’t been great this year. They have ranked in the bottom half of the league in Goals Saved Above Expected most of the season. Fleury sees the 10th most xGA compared to Talbot, who sees the 24th most in the league. Yet, Fleury has half the amount of goals given up above expected, compared to Talbot.
Fleury might be just a marginal upgrade over the tandem they currently have in net. But Minnesota has shown what they are capable of when they can play aggressively on offense without concern that one mistake will sink them. They can rattle off a four-, six-, or eight-game win streak. They can beat some of the better teams in the league. The Wild didn’t need a Vezina-type performance when they acquired Dubnyk years ago, and they don’t need one now. But by adding Fleury, they at least add a goalie with Vezina and Stanley Cup pedigree. Talbot and Kahkonen can't claim even a postseason series victory.
Add in the conditions of the second-round pick going the other way and this move is a no-brainer.
Stats via Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference
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