The Penguins could have an issue at goalie
At the NHL Awards this offseason, the new expansion team got to select one player from each of the existing NHL rosters. The Pittsburgh Penguins faced a conundrum at the goalie position, as they had two franchise-caliber players at the position but were only allowed to protect one. Many would agree with their choice, as they went with the younger model. The team decided to put twenty-three-year-old Matt Murray on their list of protected players rather than thirty-two-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury. After all, Murray had backstopped the Penguins through the last two playoffs, both of which ended with their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. Who could argue with picking the guy who is the only rookie EVER to win two Stanley Cups?
Not to mention, Fleury made it even easier by agreeing to waive his no-trade clause, informing the team earlier in the season that he’d like to stick around for one last season before agreeing to depart in the expansion draft. It surprised no one when the Vegas Golden Knights selected Fleury with their last pick on the stage, even inviting him out for an interview in his brand new jersey, causing Penguins fans across the world to cry and gag.
It didn’t seem like things would be too bad without the aging Fleury. After all, Murray had proven he could handle the biggest pressures in this league, but he had yet to serve a role befitting a true #1 goaltender. Instead, he split time with Fleury in the 2016-2017 campaign, starting only 47 games throughout the entire season while Fleury started 34. Sure, the Penguins wanted another solid player capable of winning some games when Murray needed a night off, but the organization had reason to believe that Murray would have no trouble starting 60 or more games.
Well, a little under two months into the 2017-2018 season, the Penguins probably could not be more upset they lost Fleury. First of all, their backup goaltending situation has been a carousel spinning through Antti Niemi, Casey DeSmith, and now landing on Tristan Jarry. It took backup goalies a combined seven tries before getting a victory. That victory came in Tristan Jarry’s third start for the team with a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Things might have been looking up, but the very next game the Penguins played, Jakub Voracek slid hard into Matt Murray’s pads, pushing the goaltender into the post with enough force to dislodge the goal, all while Murray was doing the splits. Teammates and trainers helped Murray limp off the ice and down the tunnel, leaving Pittsburgh wondering what will happen in the crease from here.
On Tuesday, Mike Sullivan announced that Murray is listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury. This leaves the Penguins with two inexperienced goalies to take up the task until Murray is back. Between them, Jarry and DeSmith have a whopping 6 games of NHL experience (6.5 if you count Jarry’s relief of Murray on Monday). While both goalies boast impressive stats for the team’s minor league affiliate, we all know the game is different in the NHL. These boys will really have to step up if the Penguins hope to post a respectable record during Murray’s absence.
The good news for the Penguins is their schedule. They play 6 games in the next 16 days, so if Murray has a two-week recovery, he’ll be back in time for the team’s road trip out west. The first 2 games without Murray are against the Buffalo Sabres, the team with the second-worst record in the NHL. Those games could be a chance for the young goalies to get some confidence. If Murray finds himself out for an extended period of time, these two goalies will either perform well or the Penguins will have to give up a valuable piece of their roster to bring in some veteran goalie assistance. Regardless of how this plays out, fans should find out what exactly the Penguins are made of in the coming weeks. Their scorers and defense will need to step up drastically if they wish to keep hopes of a three-peat alive.