The Penguins and Blue Jackets will kick off Game 2 of their series tonight back at PPG Paints Arena. Tons of thoughts about the Pens’ once-again dented roster are camping out in the backs of many fans’ minds. One big name in particular is rookie goalie Matt Murray, who’s been Head Coach Mike Sullivan’s go-to guy since the beginning of the season, and the Game 1 starter that never was.
Reports from the team stated that Murray may have re-injured a groin issue he suffered during the New Jersey matchup last week, just under 10 minutes to go during warmups before Game 1. Tough luck, eh? Those stupid black clouds decided to roll around and re-settle above the team’s heads just when Pittsburgh was finally getting positive news on the injury front.
When everyone’s heads fell fearing another “here we go again” moment, veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stepped onto the ice; the Penguins’ backup and, arguably, saving grace. When I saw that aforestated fear soak my Twitter timeline before puck drop, I wanted to take every person by the shoulders and scream, “WE HAVE ‘FLOWER,’ THE BEST GOD DAMN BACKUP IN THE NHL.”
The fact that this team has a guy with 14 years of experience in the league, showcasing career playoff stats such as 101 games played, 54 wins, a 2.64 goals against average, and a save percentage of .906 riding the bench is, in itself, an unbelievable advantage.
Fleury should unquestionably get the starting nod in net by Sullivan for the rest of the Blue Jackets series, unless he shows reason otherwise. In fact, Murray should stay rested on the bench, preserving his health, for as long as Flower continues to stand tall in between the pipes.
In Game 1, Fleury shucked aside 32 shots by Columbus and had a save percentage of .969. At 6’2”, a dominant presence in net by a veteran guy bodes well for an injured team – most notably one suffering on defense. It creates camaraderie and gives the fan base something to breathe easy about, especially when loads of trade talks surrounding the expansion draft appeared around Fleury in the early stages of this season.
Sure, many fans were shocked when his name never got called, but I bet those same fans are thanking their lucky stars he’s still in the Steel City saving their team from what could’ve been a massive disaster Thursday night. Tristan Jarry was exceptional for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, but the NHL playoffs are a whole different monster. Having the option to pick a beloved veteran over a 21-year-old guy who just got his first NHL start on Sunday is nothing to bat an eye over. It’s a gift the Penguins get to open whenever they need to.
Sullivan should take advantage of Fleury’s hot glove and paddle until the juice runs out. If Fleury can keep riding high, it can’t be a bad thing for Murray to be able to fully heal. Give the guy some much-needed recovery time — 15 more wins and a repeat ain’t ‘gonna come easy.