Commentary

The case for Marc-Andre Fleury

Updated: February 22, 2010, 11:31 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Maybe Roberto Luongo seizes the moment and makes this Olympic stage his.

Maybe this becomes his golden moment.

Luongo on Monday was named the starter for Canada's qualification game against Germany on Tuesday, replacing Martin Brodeur. Brodeur did it in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Games, replacing starting Canadian netminder Curtis Joseph early on en route to Canada's first gold medal in 50 years.

So maybe this is Luongo's time.

Maybe.

Or maybe this becomes the moment when the Olympic thread unravels.

Maybe it's just that Luongo quite simply has never delivered the goods in pressure moments despite being one of the best goalies in the NHL. Maybe that explains this nagging feeling we have that this isn't going to end well for Luongo or the host Canadians.

Remember last season's playoffs, when a good Vancouver Canucks team could not put away a young Chicago Blackhawks squad in the second round in large part because the Blackhawks exposed Luongo? He has never been on a team that's advanced beyond the second round.

Which brings us to the crux of the situation. In the wake of a dramatic change in goaltending for Canada's first elimination game against Germany on Tuesday, has Canada mismanaged its goaltending assets?

We will say this: We would have made a goaltending switch given the uneven performance turned in by Brodeur in the Canadians' 5-3 loss to the United States on Sunday, which denied them a bye to the quarterfinals. There is no place for ordinary in this Olympic tournament. Ordinary is death. Ordinary means pack your bags.

If Canada coach Mike Babcock and executive director Steve Yzerman believed Brodeur couldn't be counted on to be beyond ordinary, then they had to make a move. Now, any move of this nature is shot through with the possibility of failure. It is the nature of the beast. This is why we would have gone with the closest thing to a sure thing in the Canadian net -- Marc-Andre Fleury.

We have been banging this drum since the Canadian orientation camp in August. It has been for the most part a drum banged in a vacuum. But ask yourself one simple question: Which Canadian goaltender has produced more clutch performances in the past two years? Fleury is the easy and only answer.

Cam Ward would be second on that list, and he's not even in Vancouver. But Fleury, who was the backup to Luongo in Canada's 8-0 rout against Norway to open the tournament, was never really on the radar for the Canadians.

Perhaps it's Fleury's boyish, happy-go-lucky demeanor that somehow allows people to be dismissive of him. But having watched him play in every playoff game for the Pittsburgh Penguins since the lockout, the undeniable fact is he is a rock.

Have there been bad goals? Sure. Has there been brilliance in the face of crushing pressure? Yes.

Fleury shut down the Detroit Red Wings in four of the final five games in the Stanley Cup finals last spring after the Wings opened the series with two wins. He has also won 30 postseason games over the past two seasons. Remember his save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the dying seconds of Game 7 that preserved the Pens' Cup win in Detroit? And how about his breakaway save in Game 7 of the second round against Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin? That was a series-saving stop.

That's why we would have tapped Fleury on the shoulder for Tuesday's game against Germany and told him to get ready to run the table.

But it didn't happen. Probably wasn't ever a consideration.

Now we're about to find out if that was an egregious oversight on the part of the Canadians.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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