At the moment none of us should have any idea as to what type of team the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins actually are. We have seen a wide range of results, different levels of play, hot streaks, cold streaks, big wins, ugly losses, and everything else that could fit in between.
If a hockey team is capable of doing it, chances are the 2018-19 Penguins have already done it over the first two months of the season.
We should be sure of this fact — goaltending is going to play a huge role in what this team does the rest of the way and how much it is able to win.
We know they are going to score a lot of goals. That is what the Pittsburgh Penguins do, and as long as Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang are healthy and in the lineup they are going to have the ability to put the puck in the net. Getting consistent scoring depth will certainly be important — and the potential for that is there, and it still seems like trader Jim Rutherford has another trade or two hiding somewhere too — but they are going to have the ability to score.
We also know that they are going to have a lot of flaws defensively. The forwards are not great in their own end, the defense after the top pairing is not particularly great, and they are going to give up a lot of shots, chances, and quality chances.
These developments have been true for more than two years now, even going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup winning team that was carried through the playoffs by high-level talent at forward and outstanding goaltending.
They are going to need that type of goaltending again. They did not get it a season ago and have yet to get it this season.
Now that Matt Murray is back in the lineup it leaves coach Mike Sullivan with a big decision to make regarding who gets the bulk of the playing time.
In the short-term there are going to be plenty of opportunities for both goalies to play because the Penguins are in the middle of a stretch that has them playing six games in nine days, including two different sets of back-to-backs (they already played one on Friday-Saturday and have another one this week on Wednesday and Thursday).
But at some point somebody is going to have to emerge as the player to get the job.
Right now, every piece of objective evidence points to Casey DeSmith having the better season. He has a higher save percentage across the board, he has helped the Penguins get some wins to get back in the playoff race, and he probably exceeded expectations. He has been, I think it is fair to say, a surprise.
If we are being fair, he would continue to get the bulk of the playing time because, quite frankly, he’s probably earned it. But professional sports aren’t always fair. They are a business with a very specific bottom line, especially when you are championship contender every single season. If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be that type of team this season I am having a very difficult time seeing that happen without Murray playing a huge role in that.
For as good as DeSmith has been, I am still not sold on him being that type of goalie, especially after the past couple of weeks where he has mixed in some sketchy goals and some tough games around his brilliant saves and strong games.
If the Penguins are going to get to where they want to be, they are probably going to do it with Murray being that goalie. Because of that they need to do what they can to get him right and being the goalie he was — or at least close to that goalie — when they were winning Stanley Cups with him. Not sure how that happens with him sitting on the bench.
He needs to play, and he needs to play a lot because they need to find out for certain what they have in him sooner rather than later. It may not be fair to the other goalie at this point, but if Murray is your starter and your franchise goalie, you need to treat him as such when he is healthy and able to play.
If he gets back on track, then great. You have your goalie.
If he doesn’t, then you know you have a problem and need to figure out a way to address it.
Which Penguins goalie should get the bulk of the playing time right now?
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