The Penguins are patiently awaiting word on goaltender Matt Murray after he suffered an injury in Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Murray, 22, exited Wednesday’s contest after 40 minutes of play, over which time he stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced. The immediate word was that he was dealing with a lower-body ailment, but there was no knowledge as to how, what or exactly when Murray fell injured. Post-game, all coach Mike Sullivan offered was that he didn’t have an update on the status of the young netminder, and it’s unlikely the Penguins will be updating Murray’s status before Thursday afternoon.
That said, at the moment, it doesn’t appear as though he’ll be suiting up for the Penguins’ next outing against the Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Eve. That’s possibly due to injury, but also a very real possibility as a precaution even if he is healthy enough to suit up.
What we do know about last night’s game, however, is that with Murray out of action, Marc-Andre Fleury came in, stopped all 19 shots he faced in the third period and allowed Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin to power the Penguins to victory in a game they likely had no business winning.
And Wednesday’s win was case in point as to why Pittsburgh shouldn’t be in any hurry to move Fleury along, despite the fact that he’s almost certainly playing his final season in the Steel City.
It’s long been rumored that Fleury is fodder for either the expansion draft, given he’ll waive his no-movement clause, or trade bait for the Penguins this season. The Penguins won’t be able to protect both he and Murray at the expansion draft, which means trading the veteran Fleury is the most likely scenario. However, there’s nothing saying Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford has to trade Fleury before the start of the post-season. Matter of fact, it might not even be in his best interest to do so.
Murray’s current injury will mark the second time this campaign he has been sidelined, even if the end result is only a period-long ailment. Falling injured twice in one season can happen to any player and it isn’t necessarily the mark of an injury prone player, but there has been scenarios in the past in which a top team loses its netminder only to fall apart when it matters most. See the Montreal Canadiens of the past season or any recent season in which Carey Price has missed a significant amount of time.
Having a strong secondary option — which the Penguins have now in Fleury, despite his mediocre numbers — gives them comfort in knowing that if one goaltender falls injured, the other will be there to pick up the slack. It’s not a knock on Tristan Jarry, the Penguins’ AHL starter who is putting together a nice season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Fleury as Murray’s backup is as good an insurance policy as the Penguins can have.
That’s why Rutherford would likely be best served to adopt what we can call the Steve Yzerman plan, if you will. Earlier this season the Tampa Bay Lightning GM brushed off talk of a possible Ben Bishop trade, which also remains a very real possibility, by admitting to the consideration of keeping Bishop through the trade deadline and into the post-season for the sole purpose of having a more-than-capable second option in goal.
That’s the exact same mentality that could pay off for the Penguins. Having the kind of strength Fleury provides in a backup will matter more for Pittsburgh than it will for most teams this season, too, because unlike most, the Penguins are true Stanley Cup contenders. The roster from the past season’s Stanley Cup win is almost entirely in tact, Sidney Crosby is playing at a mind-blowing level and a ragtag defense battling through injury has been able to hold it together enough to keep the Penguins in the win column. Once the blueline gets healthy, Pittsburgh will only get better.
Moving Fleury to a team in need of goaltending help shouldn’t be a hard sell come the off-season when the likes of the Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and even the Philadelphia Flyers — wouldn’t Fleury in Philly be a juicy story? — could be looking for help in goal. That’s not to mention the option of a creative trade to ensure Murray remains a Penguin if Fleury remains on the Pittsburgh roster come the expansion draft.
Rutherford admitted earlier in the campaign that having two top netminders wasn’t working out as he had planned, but shipping Fleury out ahead of the post-season could result in disaster should injury strike at the most inopportune time. Right now the Penguins have insurance and strength in goal, and maintaining the 1A-1B depth throughout the post-season could prove more important than landing a big return at the deadline.
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