This postseason is really just gravy for the Penguins. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the expectations will be high but not necessarily attainable for this group that has been almost carbon-copied from season to season.
The one glaring difference in this challenging playoff season will be the goalie situation. Previously, the Penguins could turn to one of two franchise goalies in Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has since moved on to Vegas and thrown together a Vezina quality season for the expansion franchise despite missing 25 games earlier in the season due to a concussion.
Murray has had much of the same injury luck this season battling concussions and groin injuries as well as the passing of his father along the way. The battle tested goalie has two Stanley Cups in as many seasons in the league which led to the easier discarding of Fleury.
The Penguins have had to turn to Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith more times than they would’ve liked this season. While the two rookies have filled in quite admirably for stretches while Murray was recovering from whatever had been his issue at the time, things weren’t quite the same.
Jarry showed the promise he originally was drafted for many of times including fending off the Lightning in a game earlier this season when it seemed the Lightning couldn’t be tamed. DeSmith has stepped in and won many games including the second of a back-to-back on Wednesday night in front of a PPG Paints Arena crowd that he is 4-1 playing for this season.
Come playoff time, nothing will matter more than having ‘Muzz’ man the crease for the two-time defending champion.
Let’s be honest here, the Penguins have adjusted to playing in front of Murray. From the time he skated on to the ice and emphatically began the process of becoming the Penguins’ new franchise goalie, it’s clear the team has adjusted to his style. They will want the goaltender who replaced the guy that seemed destined to finish his career in Pittsburgh after 12 wonderful seasons in the blue paint. They’ll want the guy who has yet to lose a single playoff series.
I know, you’ll site that the Penguins have already won a Stanley Cup with a rookie goaltender but this situation is different. While the Penguins believe in Jarry, they clearly want him to play in the AHL and he hasn’t been convincing enough that he could beat the Lightning or the Bruins four times in a two week span. As far as DeSmith goes, do we really want a 26-year old rookie that is the back up essentially because his competition is a bit more important to his franchise so they chose him to be the goalie to get the starts in the minor leagues? I don’t.
Murray has a history of getting hurt but as he said the other day “I’m only human”. Injuries are a natural thing and he can’t be blamed if he were to suffer one from now until the end of the season. Murray was 9-1-1 in 11 games before the concussion happened in practice so he is clearly capable of playing to that level again. He struggled early in the season much like the Penguins did.
There are many teams, not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the NHL as a whole that arguably have been better and more consistent this season than the Penguins. But let me promise you: Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to the Penguins even giving themselves a chance at a third straight Stanley Cup than the health and well-being of the Thunder Bay, Ontario kid Matt Murray.