The Pittsburgh Penguins are facing a rough choice. After Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals in thirteen minutes in game 3 against the Senators, who do the Penguins start? Especially now with Matt Murray healthy.
When Matt Murray got injured, it can be assumed that the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t realize Marc-Andre Fleury had this playoff run in him. But he did, surpassing his regular season effort to help lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Final. Unfortunately, it seems that Fleury is out of gas. So who does Pittsburgh now go with? Their young goaltender, or the guy who got them here?
Why Pull The Old Guy
Ottawa Senators forward Derick Brassard (19) celebrates after scoring past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Marc-Andre Fleury has led the Pittsburgh Penguins this far into the playoffs. Why wouldn’t he be able to lead them further? Well, there are several reasons to be suspicious of Marc-Andre Fleury’s recent run.
Firstly, Fleury prior to this year hadn’t had a long playoff run since 2014, when the Penguins played 13 games. This is Fleury’s longest postseason stretch since 2009 when the Penguins won the Cup. In both 2009 and 2014, Fleury posted lower numbers than this year. In two games last year, Fleury’s save percentage was just a .875.
Fleury’s also faced the most shots of any goaltender in these playoffs. It’s tough for a 32-year-old goaltender to face as many shots as Fleury has in these playoffs. It’s even tougher when he hasn’t played more than two series in eight years.
Also, it’s becoming clearer that the number of shots takes its toll on Fleury. On the back half of both of the last series, Fleury’s save percentage has fallen massively. In games 3 and 4 of the Columbus series, Fleury’s save percentage fell to a .892 and a .853 respectively. In Washington, Fleury posted a .875 and a .808 in games 5 and 6. Fleury has the confirmed tendency to become beatable.
Which means Game 3 might have been just the beginning. Now that Ottawa’s learned to beat Fleury, it could be over for the netminder. In both of the other series, all Fleury had to do was post one more good game. If he only posts one more good game in this series, it will end 4-2 in favor of Ottawa.
Why Go With the Young Guy?
On the other end, Matt Murray has been good since that Cup run last year. In his first long playoff run, Murray posted a .923 SV% and a 2.08 GAA. Both are better than what Fleury is currently posting. Murray kept it up in the regular season, posting a .923 SV% and a 2.41 GAA. He also became the Pittsburgh Penguins starter.
Murray’s stats this season were great. He was tied for ninth in save percentage, and fourteenth in goals against. Murray’s better than an average goaltender, and with the state of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense, that’s good. Plus, Murray is young enough to not be worn down as much by the number of shots.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) makes a glove save (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Because out of all the teams remaining, Pittsburgh is above and beyond the worst team at limiting shots. They’ve allowed 34 a game, better than only Columbus, Toronto, and Edmonton. Not known as great defenses. Murray might be better able to stop that number of shots.
And that was proven in Game 3. After Murray came in, it was a 1-1 game. He allowed only one goal on 20 shots in 47 minutes. The Penguins were only able to score a goal once Murray was back in net. And if he’s healthy enough to play 47 minutes last night, he should be healthy enough to start. The Pittsburgh Penguins also aren’t known for taking their time with injuries.
Matt Murray proved more than capable of backstopping a Cup-winning team last season. Now, with more experience under his belt, he should be able to do it again. And that’s why you put him back in net – he’s currently better than Marc-Andre Fleury.
This isn’t Marc-Andre Fleury’s fault. He hasn’t been in a long playoff run for the Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009 when he was 24. The Penguins are allowing the most shots on net of anybody remaining. And his body isn’t what it once was.
But Matt Murray’s fully capable of taking this many shots. This Penguins defense wasn’t much better last year, just with Kris Letang in the fold. Murray is only 22. He proved that the Cup run wasn’t a fluke with his performance in the regular season.
The Penguins played better with Murray in net. And Murray had a great game after not playing for a month and a half. This is a natural choice, and one the Penguins are likely to make.