PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 29: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during a play under review against Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Goalie nods: Fleury looks to break out of recent slump for Penguins

After back-to-back wins for Matt Murray, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going back to Marc-Andre Fleury in net on Thursday night when they host the Minnesota Wild.

This remains the most fascinating goaltending situation in the league right now.

Both goalies have backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup, both goalies are worthy of being the No. 1 guy right now, and it was always going to be a challenge for head coach Mike Sullivan to figure out how to get everybody the playing time they want (and deserve).

In the end, it’s most likely going to come down to which goalie is simply “the hot hand” and playing the better hockey at a given time, which is probably what makes this kind of an important start for Fleury.

After a strong start to the season where he was arguably the Penguins’ best player through their first few games, his play has cooled off considerably over the past couple of weeks. After stopping 73 of the first 77 shots he faced in his first two starts (a .948 save percentage), he has managed only an .895 save percentage in the eight starts that have followed, with the Penguins only winning four of those games. It would be unfair to put all of that on Fleury because the Penguins’ defense was out of sorts earlier in the year, especially while their No. 1 defenseman (Kris Letang) was sidelined with an injury.

But it also wouldn’t be unfair to say that he simply has not been quite as sharp as he was earlier in the year.

With Murray returning from injury and playing extremely well in his first three starts of the season (a .957 save percentage and three wins, including a recent shutout in San Jose) it would not be a shock to see him get a little more playing time in the short-term if Fleury’s numbers stay at their current level.

Minnesota will be going with Devan Dubnyk who has given up just seven goals in his past seven starts, and only three in his past five.

Elsewhere…

— No official word out of the Carolina-Anaheim game but you should look for Cam Ward (Hurricanes) and John Gibson (Ducks) to occupy the two nets.

— It’s going to be a matchup of two of the best goalies in the league so far this season when Tuukka Rask goes for the Boston Bruins when they host Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

James Reimer is expected to make his fifth start of the season for the Florida Panthers when they take on the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks. The Sharks will be going with Martin Jones as he looks to build off of his 24-save shutout against Washington the other night.

— One of the more interesting games on the schedule on Thursday is in Montreal when the Canadiens host the Los Angeles Kings. Carey Price looks to improve to 9-0-0 on the season for the Canadiens and enters the game having lost just two of his past 20 starts going back to the start of the 2015-16 season. The Kings will stick with Peter Budaj as he continues to fill in for injured starter Jonathan Quick.

— The Red Wings are going to continue to ride the hot hand that is Jimmy Howard when they face the struggling Canucks. Howard enters play on Thursday with a league-best .958 save percentage in five starts this season. Vancouver will counter with Ryan Miller.

Jaroslav Halak looks to get another win after snapping a personal four-game losing streak on Monday when he goes for the New York Islanders against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay is going with backup Andrei Vasilevskiy as Ben Bishop gets a night off.

Former teammates Carter Hutton and Pekka Rinne are the goaltending matchup in Nashville when the Predators host the Blues. Nashville seems to be getting back on track recently but gets a tough test on Thursday against one of the top teams in the NHL.

Kari Lehtonen has lost each of his past five starts for the Dallas Stars, but he will get a chance to snap that streak on Thursday when he gets the call against Brian Elliott and the Calgary Flames.

— In the battle of the old Jets (the Arizona Coyotes) against the new Jets (Winnipeg 2.0) it will be Louis Domingue in net for Arizona being opposed by Connor Hellebuyck.

Don’t assume Fleury will be traded, says Penguins GM

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Just because Matt Murray signed an extension doesn’t mean Marc-Andre Fleury‘s days in Pittsburgh are numbered.

That was the message today from Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, after Murray re-upped through 2019-20.

“The focus seems to be on what happens with Marc-Andre, but let’s let this play itself out first,” Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “Let’s not just presume that Marc is automatically out. He’s been the franchise goalie here, he is a terrific person, he’s a terrific player and I think that assumption, we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.”

This wouldn’t be such a hot topic if there was no expansion draft in June. But there is, and when it takes place, each team will only be allowed protect one goalie. And if the Penguins don’t trade Fleury, they’ll be obligated to protect him, unless he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause.

Protecting Fleury would, of course, leave Murray as a prime candidate to be chosen by Las Vegas. Unless, that is, Rutherford could strike a deal with George McPhee to, say, send Vegas a draft pick or player, in return for Vegas not picking Murray. Yes, that kind of deal is allowed.

So it’s complicated.

At this point in time, it’s quite possible that Rutherford doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The season is still young, and it remains to be seen which goalie will emerge as the starter in Pittsburgh. If it’s Murray, Fleury might want to be a starter elsewhere and Rutherford’s decision will be an easy one.

If it’s Fleury, the decision could be tougher. While keeping both goalies would be nice, it would also be expensive. Next season, Fleury and Murray will make a combined cap hit of $9.5 million, and there’s only one net.

Again, though, a decision doesn’t have to be made now.

“Our focus this year is winning,” said Rutherford, “and we’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time.”

Statement made: Fleury lifts Penguins over Capitals

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PITTSBURGH — The biggest issue the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing over the summer was how they were going to handle their two-headed monster in net between Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.

It was — and still is — a situation that creates a number of short-term and long-term questions.

Which one stays, which one goes, and until one of them does go, who is going to get the bulk of the playing time? Right now the situation is easy. With Murray sidelined for the first month of the season due to a hand injury sustained at the World Cup of hockey, Fleury is back in his familiar position as the team’s starter.

In their season opening 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, he made a pretty big statement that it is still his net.

Even though Kris Letang did his part to help shut down Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, and even though Evgeni Malkin scored a big goal late in the second period and Phil Kessel tallied the winner in the shootout, it was Fleury that was the team’s best player on the night.

He was spectacular in turning aside 39 of the 41 shots he faced, including all six shots the Capitals put on him during 3-on-3 overtime period.

None of those saves were bigger than this point-blank stop on a wide open T.J. Oshie right in front of the net.

Fleury being the unquestioned starter on opening night is a bit of a reversal from the way things went in the Penguins’ net just four months ago on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.

With Fleury sidelined at the start of the postseason due to a concussion, Murray took over the starting job and played so well that he never gave up the job, even after Fleury was 100 percent healthy and cleared to play. That performance from Murray, combined with the contract situations facing both players and the looming expansion draft next year, created an offseason storyline centered around the two goalies and the franchise’s long-term plans for the position.

Given the ages of both players (Fleury is nearly a decade older than Murray) it still seems logical to assume that Murray is going to be the long-term solution at the position, assuming he doesn’t have a noticeable regression this year. In the short-term, the Penguins seem happy to let the situation play out and stick with both goalies.

On Thursday, on the same night the Penguins were celebrating their Stanley Cup win, it was Fleury’s opportunity to shine after sitting on the sidelines for almost that entire journey.

“It’s great for Marc,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

“We are thrilled with how he battled to get back last year. It was a difficult circumstance for him personally and he has worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

Even though he only played 75 minutes in the playoffs last season he still played a massive role in their success during the season. Before the mid-season coaching change roster overhaul that helped jumpstart their second half and postseason surge, Fleury was pretty much the only player keeping the team afloat in the standings early in the season. It was perhaps the best season of his career as his career continued to do a 180 after a couple of disappointing postseason performances that seemed to leave his future with the team in doubt.

His future with the team is still in doubt at this point, but for entirely different reasons.

Instead of being performance based, it’s all about a cheaper, younger option coming up behind him.

On Thursday, he showed that he is not quite ready to give up that spot just yet.

Fleury fails to crack ‘Canes roster, but McKeown makes it (for now)

Haydn Fleury
AP
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We’ve written plenty about Carolina’s promising young blueline, one that, last year, featured the likes of Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk — all aged 24 or younger.

The youth didn’t stop there, either, as several other young prospects were knocking at the door.

But on Monday the knocking stopped for a few.

The notables? Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick in 2014, who was demoted to AHL Charlotte and Trevor Carrick, the 22-year-old that made his NHL debut last season.

A third good young d-man, Roland McKeown, is sticking around — but nobody’s sure for how long. The ‘Canes added a pair of veteran defensemen in recent days (Klas Dahlbeck via waivers, Jakub Nakladal via free agency) and Nakladal’s status is “non-roster” due to immigration issues.

Fleury, 20, will no doubt be disappointed by today’s development, though it’s hardly a disastrous setback. The ‘Canes have been pretty methodical in bringing him along — Fleury played four full years with WHL Red Deer — and he’s barely spent any time in the American League.

In that light, going to Charlotte is probably a good thing.

Overall, today’s moves still give the ‘Canes a very young, very exciting outlook for the season. We’ve already mentioned the youth on defense, and the forwards aren’t much older: Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Phil Di Guiseppe, Viktor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen and Martin Frk are all 23 or younger.

Marc-Andre Fleury wants to stick around with the Penguins for ‘a long time’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on prior to Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After an entire summer of speculation and questions about how they were going to handle their goaltending situation, the Pittsburgh Penguins are prepared to enter the 2016-17 season with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray on their roster.

Given the way Murray played in the postseason on the way to a Stanley Cup win, and the contract situations that are only going to become even more complicated next summer with an expansion draft, there was a belief that Fleury could be on the move this summer. For any number of reasons, including the lack of a trade market for goalies and the fact Penguins management seems happy to have both goalies in the mix at this point, a trade never happened.

On Thursday, Fleury spoke to some of the Pittsburgh media following an informal workout before the team returns to training camp and said, via Sam Werner of the Post-Gazette, that he never requested a trade from the team this summer and that his goal has always been to remain with the team.

“I’ve always said this is my home,” Fleury said, again via the Post-Gazette. “I wish I could play here all my career. I’ll try my best to do good for the team, for the organization and hopefully stick around a long time.”

In the short-term, the Penguins’ goaltending situation seems like it could be a good problem to have because both of them have shown they are capable of being the team’s No. 1 goaltender, and split of the playing time means neither one has to shoulder too much of the workload and shouldn’t be worn down by the time the playoffs come around. There is also a safety net in place in case of an injury to either one, or if Murray sees his play regress from where it was in the playoffs.

The problems are more long-term as they relate to the salary cap (Fleury’s contract runs for three more seasons and pays him more than $5 million per season) and the upcoming expansion draft. Given Fleury’s contract, which includes a no-trade clause, the Penguins would have to protect him in the expansion draft next June which means Murray would be exposed and create the possibility that the Penguins could lose him for nothing.

That situation helped ignite the trade speculation over the summer.

If all things related to their performance remained equal (Fleury still plays like a starting goalie; Murray doesn’t regress too much) you still have to think that the Penguins would probably prefer to keep Murray long-term, simply because he is still cheaper at the moment (an important thing for a team that always spends to the cap like Pittsburgh) and is nearly 10 years younger. For as good as Fleury has been over the past couple of years since having his career do a complete 180 after a disastrous 2012-13 playoff performance, he is still starting to get to an age where goalies typically start to slow down a little.

If nothing else, the Penguins have the 2016-17 season to evaluate the performance of both and make their long-term decision before having to worry about exposing Murray to the expansion draft.

The 2015-16 season was one of Fleury’s best in the NHL before two concussions sidelined him for extended periods of time. The latter happened late in the regular season and kept him sidelined through the start of the playoffs. By that point Murray had taken over the job. The Penguins briefly turned to Fleury for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, an overtime loss that saw Fleury struggle down the stretch. The Penguins went back to Murray in Games 6 and 7 — both wins — and continued to ride him through the Stanley Cup Final.

At the start of the season his play was probably the biggest reason the Penguins remained in the playoff hunt when the rest of the team around him was struggling prior to the coaching and roster changes that helped turn around the season.