Friday, April 14, 2017

If Marc-Andre Fleury keeps winning, he may force Penguins' hand in goal

By Mark Madden
April 14, 2017

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury plays in the first period in Game one of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. The Penguins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in Penguins' 3-1 Game 1 victory over the Blue Jackets (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) 

Can Marc-Andre Fleury win the Penguins’ No. 1 goaltending job while Matt Murray is injured?
Sure. After all, Murray won it while Fleury was injured last year.
You could make a movie about the Penguins’ goaltending situation over the last 12 months. Not a good movie. But it would be better than “Sudden Death,” Hollywood’s last effort that involved the Penguins.
Fleury was supposed to start through the end of the decade. Murray was supposed to be his backup, a job he would have tolerated for a few seasons.
Then Fleury got concussed in the 77th game of last season. Enter Murray.
Murray got injured in the 82nd game of last season. Enter Jeff Zatkoff.
Murray returned for the third game of the playoffs. Fleury replaced him for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final, losing in overtime. Otherwise, Murray was the guy. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
Murray and Fleury competed, kind of, for the No. 1 job this season. Murray earned it. He had a few hiccups, but better stats.
The playoffs are back. Murray is playing the role of Fleury. Fleury is playing the role of Murray. Would you be shocked if the situation played out exactly the same? (It’d be OK if Tristan Jarry didn’t play the role of Zatkoff.)
Murray is injured. He won’t play Game 2 Friday night against Columbus. He’s out for a week, maybe longer.
Fleury didn’t get the starter’s position back merely by playing one good game Wednesday.
But it’s likely that Fleury will play the rest of the series. If the Penguins win it and Fleury performs well in the process, what then?
Fleury was available to play by Game 3 of last year’s second round. It took Murray five playoff games to lock down the No. 1 job.
How long would it take Fleury? There comes a point where coach Mike Sullivan wouldn’t automatically go back to Murray.
Or maybe there doesn’t. Sullivan thinks Murray is the better goalie, and thought that even before last year’s postseason started.
But when does Murray heal? How completely does he mend? Murray’s groin is reportedly the afflicted area, and it often takes a while before that injury comes all the way back.
There’s zero point to playing Murray if he’s less than 100 percent. That’s the reason the Penguins kept Fleury: In case Murray got hurt.
It’s an interesting situation that Fleury makes more intriguing if he keeps winning.
That would be fine by the Penguins’ dressing room, which has always seemed equally invested in both goalies. That says a lot about leadership and chemistry, because the tendency is to pick sides, like many fans have.
Fleury has handled his situation impeccably. There’s no doubt that Murray would, too, if the situation reverses.
This is Murray’s third significant injury of the season. That doesn’t mean Murray isn’t a No. 1 goalie. It just means he gets hurt a lot.
An extreme scenario: Murray doesn’t return during these playoffs, or Fleury plays well long enough that when Murray does return, Fleury keeps starting. Fleury leads the Penguins to the Stanley Cup, or to the final.
Up next: The expansion draft. Uh…
Every NHL GM would keep the younger, cheaper, talented model. But the Penguins’ championship window stays open only as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their primes, and that’s another 2-3 years.
That’s the same time frame as the remainder of Fleury’s prime.
Does one Stanley Cup really tell the Penguins everything they need to know about a 22-year-old goalie?
You thought all the questions about the situation had already been answered, didn’t you?
You’re right. They have been.
That won’t stop anybody from asking them over and over.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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