Penguins Playoff Update: The Great Goalie Debate – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Playoff Update: The Great Goalie Debate


You could almost hear the lid on the can of worms pop open when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of Matt Murray 13 minutes into our disastrous Game Three loss to Ottawa. Sound as a pound and razor-sharp following an extended layoff, Murray stopped 19 of 20 shots.


It’s sure to spark a reprise of the “Great Penguins Goaltender Debate.” One that’s raged in varying degrees of intensity around these parts since last spring, when Fleury replaced Murray in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay.

The Pens’ unquestioned starter until he was sidelined with a concussion late in the 2015-16 regular season, Fleury made seven saves during his cameo to earn a Game Five start. However, “Flower” faltered following a strong opening period, leaking for the tying goal with 3:16 left and the game-winner in overtime.

Murray returned with Dryden-esque elan to halt the Lightning in Games Six and Seven. While Fleury was relegated to the role of cheerleader, the super rookie backstopped the black and gold to a Stanley Cup.

Now the roles are reversed…eerily so. Murray sustained a lower-body injury on the eve of the 2017 playoffs, opening the door for Fleury. The Quebec native’s stepped in and done a terrific job—until Wednesday night.

So who should Sullivan start for tonight’s pivotal Game Four?

Although he hasn’t officially announced his decision, it sounds as if he’s already made his choice. Fleury got most of the work at practice on Thursday.

I hate to second-guess “Sully.” He’s an excellent coach, adept at handling his troops, and 684302124_slidehe’s no doubt got his finger on the team’s pulse. Plus, Sullivan’s shown in the past that he’ll make whatever move it takes—popular or otherwise—to win.

Still, I’m not altogether sure Fleury’s the best choice. Maybe it’s me, but it seemed Flower was awfully deep in his net in Game Three, perhaps in deference to the lively boards at Canadian Tire Centre. Did the boards force No. 29 to alter his normally aggressive approach? Has he had problems there in the past?

It got me to thinking about his history against the Sens and, specifically, his career stats in Ottawa. I decided to crunch some numbers on both of our goalies.

The results are eye-opening, to say the least.

Marc-Andre Fleury
At Ottawa Games GAA SV% Record
Regular Season 13 3.92 .880 4-5-1
Postseason 9 3.29 .891 6-3-0
Total 22 3.64 .884 10-8-1
Matt Murray
At Ottawa Games GAA SV% Record
Regular Season 3 2.60 .914 1-1-1
Postseason 1 1.28 .950 0-0-0
Total 4 2.33 .920 1-1-1

Although Murray doesn’t have a large sample set, his numbers in Ottawa are better. A lot better.

Another hidden stat? Including Wednesday’s fiasco, Fleury’s been pulled five times in his 21 starts in the Canadian capital (he has one relief appearance). Not an insignificant number.

However, Flower—fiercely competitive despite his easy-going nature—has shown an innate ability to bounce back this postseason. In games immediately following losses he’s 4-1 with two shutouts, a 1.80 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. Talk about resilient!

Personally, I’m more comfortable with Murray in goal. That’s not a knock on Fleury. It’s just that the kid plays a calmer, steadier style, attributes that seem to rub off on the team.

Still, on a purely emotional level, how can you take the starting reins from Flower? Especially after the job he did against Washington. And, honestly, how wonderful would it be if the Pens were to rebound and win another Cup with Fleury as the go-to goalie? A Hollywood script writer couldn’t pen a more heartwarming story.

It’s a tough choice for sure…one I’ll put to our PenguinPoop readers.

Who would you start in goal for Game Four?


Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust skated on their own yesterday. Neither is expected to play tonight.

Justin Schultz is also expected to miss Game Four with an upper-body injury. In addition, Tom Kuhnhackl is dealing with a lower-body injury. His status remains unclear.

An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review indicated that Sullivan is leaning toward a more traditional player mix for Game Four, including twelve forwards and six defensemen. Mark Streit, who helped the Pens to a 13-5 advantage in shot attempts during his 9:37 of five-on-five ice time in Game Three, appears to be the odd-man out.

Despite the team’s recent scoring slump, Evgeni Malkin remains the NHL leader in postseason points (20) and assists (14). He’s tied for the league lead in penalty minutes (34) with Washington’s Tom Wilson.

Jake Guentzel and the Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg are the top goal-getters with nine apiece.

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  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    May 20, 2017 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick
    We won.. ☺
    Maybe Sully does read this blog. Archibald played as you guys suggested and he did not look out of place.He was fast and feisty .Just what we needed. How about Murray? He played well.The first goal was off a deflection and nobody could have stopped that one.
    The second goal scored he was completely screened and the puck changed direction 3 times before reaching the net.Off a stick, then a leg and finally deflected off a skate then thru the 5 hole.That was sheer puck luck.
    So for me Mr. Murray again proved his worth.
    Did you notice how much calmer the team was in front of him? As Coach said he is NOT a reactionary goal tender. Very steady and predictable. But Ottawa still was trying to shoot upper top corner , glove side.
    Also tonight the Pen’s after the first 4 minutes really took the play to the Sens. They hit almost every chance they got and for the first time in 5 games had a cycle game going in the Ottawa end.
    So guys it is best out of 3 series now.
    We need to win game 5.. I hope we have a few more healthy bodies back.
    Last point was the physical play of Kunitz on Sid’s line was very noticeable. He helped to keep the puck in the zone where the lighter and smaller Sheary could not.
    We need Hornqvist back too.We still did not have that guy screening Anderson tonight. We need to get more in his face…but over all the game went as we said.
    Let’s go Pen’s. 😀

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      May 20, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      In 4 games…not 5
      Sorry was late last night…mind was not working to well.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      May 20, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      For me, I was never worried about whether or not Murray could do the job, He proved that with close out games last year in the play-offs against Was, TB, and SJ.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 20, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        No worries….Another issue that should not have happened last night ( in a game 4 of the semi- finals), was that the Pen’s took TWO !!! – to many men on the ice penalties. That is not acceptable… That is just carelessness that could have cost them the game. For me that is poor bench management or somebody not paying attention. One penalty is bad enough, but two in the same game.?? Clean that up for game 5. That was 2 of the 4 penalties we gave them last night I think.

        Did you here how defense men Ruthwedel is ?

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          May 20, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          No not yet, maybe Rick will have info when he posts.

          You are right, 2 Bench Penalties is ridiculous!

          Watching ESPN Melrose had an interesting observation. He said that the Pens O fed off of Murray’s play, He said he thought that the O were less afraid to take chances up ice, believing in Murray to be there if they got caught out of position.

          • Jim's Gravatar Jim
            May 20, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            100 % Agree Coach.
            They play differently when Murray is in Goal..
            I just wish Murray could poke check like MAF.

            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              May 20, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              Agreed, I love MAF’s poke check. That is what makes him so good in shoot outs.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          May 20, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          Okay, just saw ESPN said Ruhwedel has a concussion.

          So were is the disciplinary hearing for Ryan?

          • Jim's Gravatar Jim
            May 20, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

            What do we do now Coach ? How long before Justin is ready ? Probably go with Streit ??
            It is just to bad that a top rated draft pick,# 7-8, like Derrick P. could not step up and play.He has had many chances to prove himself and has failed every time.
            He will be gone this summer and just maybe Ray Shero who drafted him, will take him back in a package deal for swapping first round draft picks. 30-1st.
            But moving forward our D corps is quickly becoming non – existent.

            On a positive note for us is Nashville lost their star center Ryan Johansen due to surgery on his leg and will be gone for the season HNIC said. That could weaken the Preds enough for the Ducks to win.
            When we defeat Ottawa it will be a Ducks – Pen’s final.
            I like that….


            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              May 20, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

              My guess is Streit will get the call but I may want to go with Gaunce.

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    May 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The NHL website has the Pens going with 7 D again, because they are so depleted on O.

    I hope I am wrong but that stinks as a major, major mistake;

    It failed miserably last game, so there is no logical reason to expect better results this time.

    It keeps players like Sestito and Archibald in the press box when each showed that they can contribute during the regular season.

    And therefore it undermines Sully’s “next man up” mantra.

    By failing to plug in the next man up, Sully gives importance over to the injured players and undermines morale.

    Just because the NHL website said 7 D tonite doesn’t make it so, but if the Pens do go with 7 D, I will be highly disappointed and now question at least the rest of the post season or maybe longer, if the Mantra is broken.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 19, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you, Other Rick.

      I don’t understand the reluctance to go with Archibald, unless Sully’s afraid he’ll make a rookie mistake at a crucial juncture. A risk I’d be willing to take to get Josh’s speed and energy into the lineup.

      The only reason it might make sense? If Sullivan’s concerned about the health of his defense and doesn’t want to risk being down to five d-men due to an unforeseen injury. Some of those guys looked gassed in Game Three.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        May 19, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick

        I can understand the draw of dressing 7 D if you think Daley is suspect to going down. However, I disagree for the very reason I wrote above. If Daley isn’t fully healed, he sits and next man up takes his place.

        I have the same thoughts on Sully possibly being afraid Archibald being risky. It all undermines the his espoused philosophy and is conservative thinking. It all falls under the category of being to afraid of losing to be able to win, in my opinion.

        Maybe I am still over-sensitive to the Bylsma – MJ virus of being afraid. Maybe in this case the conservative approach is best. Unfortunately we will never know. Even after the game is over and the outcome is known, all we will know is; was what Sullivan decided good enough.

        If the Pens lose, they still may have lost worse using my idea. If the win, they still may have won bigger following my thoughts.

  3. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    May 19, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    After reading all of the Murray – Fleury debates here on other sites; with a lot of good arguments on both sides of the coin, one argument sticks out; “Why are we talking about Goalies when the D stinks so bad and now the O has run into a slunp?”


    Nice strategem Sully! Nice stragegem indeed; that is if you did it intentionally. Consider this; the Pens are missing Letang, Schultz, Hornqvist, Rust and Kuhnhackl and Daley and Hagelin at least may be playing through injuries. Not a very good picture is it?

    On both D and O, there is very little wiggle room. There aren’t many options left. And if you worry to greatly about them you go into a death spiral. So why not change the conversation to a goalie debate where you have options, two viable options. Now Fs and D are no longer worrying about their short comings and can play with less pressure because the focus is now on the Gs.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      The very same thought occurred to me. I think the switch was made at least partly (mostly?) for psychological reasons.

      Maybe it’ll shift the players’ focus off of how banged up and tired they are and get them to refocus on the task at hand … winning the game.


  4. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    May 19, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    According to the Trib, Sullivan just named Murray as the starter for Game Four.

    Wow. I’m a Murray guy and I sense Sully is, too. But I didn’t see this coming.

    Hopefully, it pays off.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      May 19, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      Thanks for the update!
      Looks like Sully was listening to Jim.

      You know I am a Murray guy too and this could still very much work out but I still think the better play would have been to go with MAF.

      I don’t think the Goalie will be the determining factor in this game or series. The real factor here will be can the O impose its will on the Sens or at least learn to be patient enough to over come the trap. Malkin, Kessel, Guentzel, and Crosby will be the key factors.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach
        Good point about the offense .
        Nobody ever won the Cup in a zero to zero game. ( haha )

    • May 19, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting! The way Murray plays tonight & maybe Sunday will definitely have big repercussions in the off season.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 19, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        You can say that again Phil !!
        As much as I would want to, and given the NHL Cap situation for 2017-18 , we can not have 9 million dollars tied up in cap space for 2 Goalies, and also have about 32.3 million dollars tied up in 2 center men, 1 right winger and a d man who only plays half a season due to injuries. ( Only 5’11” and has had more concussions and serious injuries than Johnny Carson had wives.) But when he plays he gives 120% every shift. That is part of his problem.
        And be able to sign the required free agents that we have to this off season. So you are so right Phil…
        There will be BIG repercussions this off season !!

        Lets Go Pen’s

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      May 19, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Lets Go Pen’s !! 🙂

      Your numbers tell the tale Rick.
      Murray will calm down the team jitters tonight.
      He has not played for so long we all forget that during the regular season the boy’s in front of him played ” better” than when MAF was in nets.
      He seemed to have less rebounds….
      Hope it is the right decision !

  5. May 19, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    It sounds like the Pens are starting Fleury, and I am fine with that. Sullivan starts the guy that he believes gives him the best chance. He is very good at that.

    That doesn’t quell my curiosity about Murray.

    I would be very interested in seeing if Murray could handle this years playoffs. He did fine with the full compliment of healthy defense last year when the Penguins were out shooting their opponents just about every game and keeping the shots against totals & quality scoring chances way down.


  6. May 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    fleury is starting

  7. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    May 19, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    As I wrote yesterday, I am for starting MAF tonight, not because I care about Hollywood Scripts nor because I favor MAF of Murray. In fact, the opposite is true. I am not a fan of reaction goalies at all. To paraphrase the Bard and take it out of context a little from the original play, reaction goalies are “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Reaction goalies are their own worst enemy, only making fantastic saves because of their over-commiting, gambling style, and not controling their rebounds well, relying on their athelticism over sound positional play.

    MAF is not, I repeat NOT having a Conn Smythe post season. He has been nicked for 5 goals on 26 shots (Was) 4 goals on 9 shots (Ott), 4 goals on 34 shots (CBJ) and 4 goals on 37 shots (CBJ). He has already lost as many games as Murray did last year and we are only about halfway through the conference finals (furthermore any repeat clunkers like last game or the other 3 I noted and we won’t get any farther).

    No MAF is having nothing more than a continuance of his regular season ups and downs; nothing more.

    Nor am I for starting MAF because his good buddies Crosby and Kunitz might prefer it, like Gene Collier wrote in the PG. If some of the Pens skaters are really sulky and pouting enough to to tank because Murray was in net, the Pens aren’t going to win the Cup anyway.

    My two biggest reasons for staying with MAF are; you don’t change horses in mid stream unless you are positive the one you are on is lame and a lot more can be gained by giving MAF a chance to redeem himself after that pathetic all too familiar Fleury playoff collapse. I had hoped MAF had exorcised his choke demons with that game 7 win against the Caps, but I guess not.

    If MAF does redeem himself, the Pens win and his stock goes up for possible trade bait. If He really hasn’t exorcised the Monkey on his back, then there is no question as to what you do in the off season. If you can’t trade him, you buy him out!

    As a person, I no doubt would like him very much. I appreciate everything he has accomplished for the Pens. However, I have no loyalty where winning is concerned. As I said, I am not in favor of his high risk style of play to begin with, so I am never surprised when he has bad games. You have to expect that from reaction goalies.

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      May 19, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Hey Guys,
      I fully understand where you are both coming from. It is a great story line for by all accounts MAF is a great team mate, an even better individual and the heart and soul of the team. The guy who has been there the longest and has seen it all. Plus we can all FEEL for the guy. He has been thru a lot since being drafted # 1 all those years ago.
      But most respectfully guys,( Rick and Rick)… you two are number geeks. It amazes me at all the statistical info you guys like to talk about. Truly is my friends. So I ask you both. The numbers do not lie. Murray is the better goalie against Ottawa as you illustrated above. So I would start Murray in Ottawa, bring in Sestito and company and go all in tonight. Chase that puck all night like your life depends on it and on every shift…. HIT SOMEBODY. I do not care if it is the Ottawa trainer. If it is not black and gold…Hit it.
      If that fails then in game 5 bring MAF back to Pittsburgh and let him play what could be his final game, ( in front of 19,000 screaming fans) as a Penguin and pray for a win.
      But tonight my money is on Murray.

      * I guess if MAF starts tonight and we lose then Sully is forced to start Murray at home next game and if he loses that game, you never get to see MAF play in a Pen’s uniform again….
      So that is another reason to start Murray tonight.( Crazy as it seems.)

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        May 19, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Hey Jim,

        Love your strategy, hit everyone. Sore bodies for the opponents usually equals good things. The more I think about the idea of putting Sestito on the PP to fill Hornqvist’s role in front, the more I like it; at leat until Phaneuf has been negated.

        I am not going to argue with your logic either with going with Murray tonight, it is sound, but I respectful stick to my guns, I go with MAF. I give him the chance to redeem himself or fail.

        I also agree with you, if MAF fails again, it may be his last as a Penguin.


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