The Great Debate: Murray vs. Fleury

The Penguins have a goalie duel. Longtime Penguin starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury no longer has the guaranteed straight shot to the crease. Young Matt Murray is awaiting in the wings looking to seize the starting job and run with it. Our Brad Matus and Brad Franjione give their opinions on who should be the number one goaltender from now and beyond.

“No Worry, Start Murray.”- Brad Matus

The Penguins have themselves quite a goalie tandem at the moment. That’s a good problem for a team to have, but it could also be a big hassle. We have seen Marc-Andre Fleury start the Penguins 2016/17 season as the primary goalkeeper with Matt Murray sidelined due to a broken hand. The broken hand happened at the end of this year’s World Cup of Hockey, where Murray was starting goalie for Team North America. If it wasn’t for the hand being broken this NHL offseason, I would rather have seen Matt Murray out in that goal crease in game one than everyone’s beloved MAF.

I hate to admit this but I’m not a Fleury guy. I have never been a Fleury guy, and I probably never will. Don’t get me wrong I think the guy has incredible skill and talent but there is just something about him that gets under my skin. Maybe how when ever the puck’s dumped into defensive zone, there he is standing in the trapezoid playing the puck with 2 opposing players busting their butts to get to the puck. I don’t know, simple stuff like that just makes me mad. Or maybe it’s his flying poke check, I feel like that’s just a disaster waiting to happen, because who knows if a teammate would be trailing behind to pick up the lone puck and score on a wide-open net because our goalie is scrambling to get up, get his stick, and readjust himself to get ready for the next save.

Matt Murray blessed Pens nation last season by swooping in and saving the day by taking over as the ‘Guins number 1 starter after Fleury was sent to the IR with a concussion. Eventually Murray was able to lead the Penguins with help from captain Sidney Crosby, and winger Phil Kessel, to the franchise’s 4th Stanley Cup Championship. Last season, Murray suited up as the number 1 for 13 games, and in those 13 games he was able to rack up a 9-2-1 record. As a rookie coming up in practically the home stretch of a season for a team that’s bound to go deep into the playoffs, if you ask me that’s pretty damn impressive. Something almost as impressive of the record was Murray’s GAA, a measly 2.00. That’s not too bad, considering you can go look at a Flyers goalie’s GAA in 13 games and go tell your friends a new joke, haha get it?

When Fleury returned back to the team, the Pens continued to roll with the hot hand in Murray. If you ask me, I sure am happy they continued to give the nod to Murray because, well, you know. Fleury did happen to start a game in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning, when Murray was injured but it didn’t go as planned as the Penguins fell to Tampa Bay. This gifted Murray his home in the crease again. Then he led us to the glory land, the Stanley Cup Finals, where the Penguins were able to beat the San Jose Sharks in 6 games. Murray played in all 6 of those games and was able to bring the Cup back home.

With the way Murray played down the stretch and in the postseason I was sure the Penguins were going to move Fleury in the past offseason, but that wasn’t the case. They decided to keep him. I’m sort of glad we did keep him because we have a solid goalie holding the fort for us while Murray was hurt. But now that Murray is back, I want to see him in action. I want to see whether he can perform to the ability we all know he can play at or if he should stay at the end of the bench. I want Matt Murray to lead this team to another cup this year, and next year, and the year after that, and so on. Murray took hold of the ropes last season and I know he can do it this season. All I have left to say is… PUT EM IN COACH!

Fleury Is The Starter.” -Brad Franjione

For the last 2 games, Matt Murray has been backing up Marc-Andre Fleury, which is how it should be. Clearly Matt Murray is ready for game action after sustaining a thumb injury in the World Cup of Hockey, but yet the coaching staff has been sticking with Fleury between the pipes. Murray is a terrific goaltender, and will absolutely be used as the Penguins progress through the season. He even recently signed a 3-year deal with the Penguins that activates after the current NHL season. All of that said, Fleury should and will be the Penguins starting goaltender moving forward if both Murray and Fleury are healthy.

Matt Murray was indeed special for the Penguins last year. He went 9-2-1 in the regular season with a .930 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average. He continued to put up solid numbers in the postseason, posting a .923 save percentage with a 2.08 goals against average. Most importantly, he won a Stanley Cup.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that Matt Murray only got the chance that he did because of the injury to Fleury. Had Fleury not been concussed, Murray would have never had the opportunity to take over as the starting goaltender, and the Penguins likely would have ridden Fleury into the postseason. Fleury had the best numbers of his career last year, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average.

Wait…Matt Murray’s numbers are better than Fleury’s, so shouldn’t he be the starter?

Not necessarily. Statistics can be deceptive sometimes.

Keep in mind that Fleury’s stats were put up during an entire season of work, consisting mostly of games that occurred early in the season when the Penguins struggled to score goals and were lacking solid defensemen (the Penguins did not have Daley or Schultz early in the year). In addition, teams are more “lackadaisical” if you will in the first part of the season. This was especially the case under former coach Mike Johnston, but Mike Sullivan changed the tone. Thus Fleury played most of his time last year in front of a Penguins team that had no identity, no drive, and no passion and yet still put up career best numbers.

When Matt Murray took over for Fleury after he suffered a concussion, the Penguins had the “win or we’re out” mentality. Every game was extremely important in the standings at the end of the season. Guys were skating harder, blocking more shots, and were focused on playing more of a complete game. This style obviously carried into the playoffs, and intensifies even more.  

So yeah, Murray may have had the better numbers than Fleury last year, but Murray played in front of a far more desperate hockey team than Fleury did. A goalie’s statistics definitely indicate a goalie’s skill, but also indicate the skill of the team in front of him. For the most part, Murray had the better and more desperate team in front of him, which as a result likely inflated his stats.

Finally, even though Murray put up stellar stats last season, could he keep those kinds of numbers throughout a whole regular season? Would his stats be the same in the early stages of the season as they were at the end of last season? Could Murray play as well as Fleury has in the early going of this season behind a defense that lacks Kris Letang and has surrendered multiple odd man rushes and far too many shots every game? Who knows. He may be able to, but he has yet to prove that. The sample size of his stats is far too small to jump to the conclusion that he is an elite goaltender in this league. Remember Andrew Hammond? He went on a tear during the last part 2 seasons ago because the Senators began to play desperate and needed to win every game. He seemed to be unstoppable and many people thought he would win the starting job over Anderson the following year.

Where is Hammond now? Backing up Anderson, after posting a 2.65 GAA and a .914 save percentage last season in 24 games. I will say that Murray has a higher pedigree than Hammond, but Hammond is proof that a goaltender that puts up phenomenal numbers in a stretch of games does not always turn out to be the player many expect them to be.

Is Murray valuable to the Penguins? Absolutely. He will get his fair share of games in the crease for the Penguins, including this week during their California swing, but there is no reason that he should be getting more playing time than Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been the franchise goaltender since the day he was drafted as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

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