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With Murray hurt, Penguins' goaltending situation clear; for now

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The risk of injury is why NHL teams hate sending their players to international tournaments.

It’s one thing if a team’s player gets hurt playing for their NHL team, but it’s another if they get hurt representing their country.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray played for the under-23 Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey. In a September 19th game against Team Russia, Murray left with what originally was thought of as only a blister. Instead, it was a broken hand and it means that Murray will miss the start of the 2016-17 season.

For now, Murray is listed as out for 3-6 weeks. The soonest he’d return would be October 15th, when the Penguins battled the Anaheim Ducks. However, that means that the Penguins need a starter on opening night, October 13th, against the Washington Capitals.

Hello, old friend, Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2009 Stanley Cup-winning netminder returns as the starter after losing his job in the spring, not because of performance, but dumb luck.

Before a concussion on April 1st ended Fleury’s regular season, he went 35-17-6 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage; easily the best season of his career.

However, with the injury, Fleury could not finish the regular season or start the playoffs in net. That role went to the rookie Murray. As good as Fleury was in the regular season, Murray had been better through the course of the second half of the season, going 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV%.

In the postseason, Murray led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory with a 15-6 record, a 2.08 GAA, and a .923 SV%.

Fleury was not healthy enough for the first round but was for the second. Despite that, Fleury did not make a postseason appearance until Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning after Murray allowed four goals through two periods.

Fleury didn’t allow any goals in the third period, but the Penguins still lost. However, Fleury started Game 5 in Pittsburgh. He allowed four goals, including the overtime winner and wouldn’t see the ice again in the postseason.

In the offseason, the question surrounding the Penguins wasn’t “will Fleury be traded?” it was “when will Fleury traded?”

Instead of dealing his franchise goaltender, general manager Jim Rutherford decided to keep him in hopes of pairing the two goaltenders together to form the league’s best netminder duo.

In the long run, this plan may prove faulty because Pittsburgh must eventually determine who its top goaltender is, come postseason time.

For now, it’s perfect.

2015-16 backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff started the first two games of the playoffs while Murray and Fleury were hurt, going 1-1, but left in the offseason when it became obvious that the Penguins wanted to keep both of their Stanley Cup-winning starting goaltenders.

If Zatkoff had been retained and Fleury traded, Pittsburgh would be relying on a goaltender with a career SV% of .915. It’s solid for a backup, but not a starter. The Penguins would risk going with Zatkoff and Tristan Jarry, who has never played an NHL game, as their goaltenders.

Instead, the send a 10-year veteran looking to regain his job as a starter for the Penguins with Jarry as his backup.

Once Murray comes back, who knows how crazy the Penguins goaltending situation will get. It is ridiculous to expect Fleury or Murray to share the net equally with the other when both have proven that they are deserving of a primary starting job.

Until then, the Penguins will begin 2016-17 the way that they have the past 10 seasons, with Fleury as the starting netminder. 

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