Murray likely to start for Penguins against Devils
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are blessed with not one but two goalies who have won the Stanley Cup in the last seven seasons. Not surprisingly, coach Mike Sullivan has declined to designate one or the other as the starter.
As well as Matt Murray is playing, and as uncharacteristically poorly as Marc-Andre Fleury is playing, Sullivan might have no choice but to soon give a majority of the starts to Murray.
For the second time in five days, Fleury was worked over Friday in a blowout loss. He gave up an opening-minute goal to Charlie Coyle of Minnesota -- one of Coyle's two goals in the first period -- and the Wild went on to the second dominant win over the Penguins in as many games this season, a 6-2 decision that, at times, didn't look to be that close.
"Usually that doesn't faze us," Fleury said of giving up a quick, early goal. "We're a good enough team to come back."
Only this time they weren't. While Sullivan suggested his teammates didn't give Fleury much help, it's all but certain that Murray -- off to a 6-1 start this season -- will get the call when the Penguins (12-6-3) return home Saturday night to play the New Jersey Devils (10-6-4) at PPG Paints Arena.
The Devils are off to a solid start, and are looking like a potential playoff team as the quarter pole of their season approaches despite a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. Detroit defenseman Mike Greene scored the game-winning goal with 1:42 remaining in overtime, beating goalie Cory Schneider, who made 28 saves.
With both teams playing on back-to-back nights, it's likely that the Devils will turn to backup goalie Keith Kincaid (2-1-1) on Saturday night.
"We'll take the point and hope to be better (Saturday) for sure," said Devils coach John Hynes, who, like Sullivan, once coached the Penguins' top farm club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sullivan is parceling out goalie starts carefully, trying to make sure both Murray -- who won the Cup for him as a rookie last season -- and Fleury remain sharp and get regular work.
But the more each goalie plays, the more disparate their statistics become. The Penguins have lost eight of the 14 starts made by Fleury (6-5-3), who has a 3.38 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. Fleury has permitted three or more goals in six of his last seven starts.
"We weren't a lot of help to him," captain Sidney Crosby said after the Wild scored on three of four power-play opportunities. "We gave them some good really scoring chances. Not just your typical scoring chances but some really good looks. And we can't allow that to happen."
Murray, by contrast, is 6-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. He gave up no more than two goals in each of his last four starts.
The Penguins, however, have given up 11 goals in Fleury's last two starts, including a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on home ice Monday night, Sullivan wouldn't fault his goalie following a second successive loss to Minnesota, who also beat the Penguins 4-2 in Pittsburgh on Nov. 10.
"I thought we put him in a tough spot," Sullivan said of Fleury, who was in net for the Penguins' Cup run in 2009. "The goals they got, they got grade A scoring chances. The type of saves he had to make were high quality. So I think we put him in a lot of the circumstances."
Still, Fleury said, "It's frustrating to give up that many goals. There were a few I should have stopped."
Sullivan seems more concerned with the overall unpredictable play of his entire team than he is any lack of steadiness by Fleury. The Penguins followed up that Monday night loss by beating up on the Rangers 6-1 Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, only to look unready to play against the Wild despite a Thanksgiving Day practice in Minnesota.
"It's hard for me to explain it," Sullivan said. "If I could explain it, I could probably solve it. It's been something that is part of our game for the first 20 games."
Two former Penguins players -- defenseman Ben Lovejoy and forward Beau Bennett -- will be with the Devils as the teams meet for the first time this season. Former Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who helped assemble that 2009 Penguins Cup team, now has the same job in New Jersey.