If game one didn’t test the average Penguins fan’s nerves pregame, then one might question if they’re even a fan as Matt Murray was injured in warmups.
Marc-Andre Fleury was forced to step in and fill the hole left by the Murray injury. Thankfully, Tristan Jarry was kept on the roster with the Penguins brass obviously worried that Murray had a lingering issue with his leg.
With head coach Mike Sullivan‘s announcement that Murray has “no timetable for a return”, this leaves Fleury and Jarry to be the goalie tandem for the foreseeable future.
All indications point to it being some sort of groin injury for Murray based upon the way he was treating the injury and the trouble he had standing. If this is the case, there is the potential that Murray may not return for the rest of the playoffs.
If you’ll remember, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick sustained a groin injury in the Kings season opener on October 12th. He did not return from the injury until 59 games later on February 25th. His injury was so bad that he could’ve undergone surgery but opted against it. The extent of Murray’s injury is unknown so to say Murray may not be ready for 3-4 months is unnecessary. Groin injuries for goalie’s, and anyone for that matter, are a very tricky thing to deal with.
Into the spotlight goes Fleury.
Fleury is one of the most polarizing sports figures in Pittsburgh today. Many people view him as an integral part of the 09′ Stanley Cup team and applauded him for his role as the backup since the Finals last season. Others hate his guts and won’t forget his meltdown in the Penguins-Flyers playoff series a few years ago coupled his iffy career playoff numbers.
One thing can’t be disputed: Fleury might be the most important piece to a potential repeat if Murray can’t return. The Penguins are going to score goals. They did last season and they led the NHL in goals per game this season. But the career .906 save percentage in the playoffs will have fans wondering if Fleury’s game one was purely based on adrenaline or if he has truly exorcised his playoff demons and can be successful in the postseason. Pittsburgh doesn’t need another Neil Walker type playoff performer.
Fleury doesn’t have to worry much about being replaced, either.
Last season, the Penguins saw enough of Murray to be confident with either goalie. They don’t have that luxury with Jarry. He’s played one NHL game and did it with the most AHL-ridden team the Penguins have used in years. Don’t get me wrong, if Jarry has to play than the Penguins aren’t in horrible hands. He’s played very well through all levels of the minors and was originally touted as the better prospect between himself and Murray.
But hindsight is 20/20. No one knows exactly what they’re going to get with a young goaltender who basically has never played in an actual NHL game.
With goaltending being something that requires a very focused mentality any goalie would be much more relaxed knowing they don’t have someone breathing down their neck for extra playing time. We’ve seen it for years. Fleury’s last two seasons were two of his best seasons ever. His backup goalie was Jeff Zatkoff for better part of both of those season’s. With Murray taking the starting job this season, Fleury’s numbers dropped dramatically.
And even if Murray gets healthy before the playoffs, it’s tough to pull out a hot goalie in the postseason. More often than not, goaltending can be the reason a team wins the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. If Fleury is playing well enough to stay in and he’s playing confident, he won’t be worried about who’s behind him on the depth chart.
Unless Fleury has one of the best postseason’s in NHL history, it’s a formality that Murray is the Penguins goaltender of the future. The Pens are built to win now and can win for years to come. If Fleury gives the Penguins the chance to win now, then the Penguins can ride him, thank him for his services, and trade him at his restored trade value to the highest bidder.
But he’s got to get to that point first. Fleury, the Penguins’ longest tenured player, will worry about his future in the offseason. If he has the opportunity to win a third Stanley Cup in four tries while being a part of the Penguins, he’ll gladly carry that with him to his next employer.
For now, the spotlight shines bright upon that farewell tribute goalie helmet. He wants to do nothing more than make those guys proud for a third time.