The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in this position before, backs against the wall, and more concerns then there are certainties.
It wasn’t too long ago that they were completely outplayed in game six against the Washington Capitals. They had dropped two straight, and everything had seemed to be going the way of the Capitals heading into game seven.
Mike Sullivan made adjustments and the Penguins cruised to a 2-0 victory to clinch the series, and earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After three games of the ECF playing the Ottawa Senators, Head Coach Sullivan and the Penguins will have no shortage of adjustments that they will need to make if they want to tie, and eventually win the series.
First off, they need to improve upon their three goals they have scored in the first three games. This series is feeling a lot like the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals where the Penguins were swept by the Boston Bruins after registering just two goals in four games.
Pittsburgh has been missing Kris Letang for some time now, so his absence has already been factored in. The playoffs have seen the injuries to continue to pile up, several at key positions.
Right now Justin Schultz, Letang’s ‘replacement’ — was forced to miss game three after leaving the previous one with an injury. He was next in line to eat serious minutes for the Penguins, as well as being counted on to help generate offense from the blue line.
In addition, the Penguins are now without Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust, both missing game three — forcing the Penguins to go with seven defensemen.
With these things in mind, the Penguins aren’t in a position to deal with many distractions, and maybe the worst one imaginable has peaked his head out after game three – who’s going to be the goaltender?
It was the making of a legendary story, starter Matt Murray gets injured before game one of the first round, and Marc-Andre Fleury steps in and carries the team to the ECF. His play even forced Murray to the bench when he returned to full strength.
Same old storyline
This has been an unfortunate recurring storyline for the Penguins, pretty much starting after they won the Stanley Cup last season.
With the pending expansion draft, as well as a salary cap squeeze, at some point it was going to come to Pittsburgh getting rid of one of the goalies. Murray was the logical choice, he’s younger and had backstopped a Stanley Cup winning team without even having a full season of NHL action under his belt.
Most thought it was only a matter of time before Fleury was dealt, but General Manager Jim Rutherford held strong, wanting to ensure that he kept the best roster construct possible for another Cup run.
That meant keeping two number one goalies, checking egos at the door, and attempting to win another Championship.
As we can see right up until game three, that worked. Murray dealt with a few injury problems during the season, and the Penguins had Fleury right there to step in. With the onslaught that he faced when replacing an injured Murray in the playoffs, there is little doubting that the Penguins would have never reached the ECF without Fleury.
Things seemed to be working out for the Penguins, Fleury was playing great, looking to ride off into the sunset in beautiful fashion. While Fleury was playing out of his mind, they eventually got Murray back, and he became the ‘break in case of emergency’.
The question remains… where are the Penguins at this point?
The case for keeping Fleury
Fleury has completely played over his head in the first two rounds of the playoffs. As Fleury went in the playoffs, so went the Penguins. If not for his performance against the Capitals, Pittsburgh might have been swept.
This is his swan song as a member of the Penguins. Rutherford has beautifully delayed the inevitable with their goaltender situation, but there will come a time when he must choose to move on from one of them.
Give Fleury the chance to finish it out. He’s earned that. Not just this postseason, but throughout his decade as the Penguins’ goalie. If not for his play early last season, the Pens aren’t in a position to put Murray in net to go on the run he did during the playoffs.
If not for Fleury, we are watching a Capitals-Senators ECF. The leash must be shorter in such a key game, but Fleury has earned himself at least another shot.
When this is the play in front of you, how can you not give him another shot?
Just where was the defense there on that play?
The case for Murray
The Penguins can’t afford to take any chances. Despite some shaky defense in front of Fleury, you can see him fighting the puck at times, not usually a good sign for him.
Pittsburgh is in absolute win-now mode, and playing Murray now is probably the way to go from here on out.
In all fairness, a game like this was coming for the Penguins and Fleury. They were very lucky they weren’t blown out of the water by the Capitals, and Fleury stole some early games against the Columbus Blue Jackets early on.
With the Penguins relying so much on Fleury, it was only a matter of time. It was a great run, but it’s time to get back to the actual better goaltender.
This is the last thing the Penguins needed. Already struggling with their offense, and the injuries piling up, they will now need to decide who will start in net for them in game four.
To be honest, if the first two don’t work themselves out (not much you can do when it comes to injuries) it won’t really matter who is in net.
Since he has taken control and endured his early struggles, everything that Sullivan has done has turned to gold. This may be his biggest test yet; how he prepares, and how his team hits the ice in game four will go a long way in determining if the Penguins will get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup.
How do you see the Pittsburgh goalie controversy? Let us know in the comments below: