Tristan Jarry

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Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the QMJHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Expect a busy July 1 in goalie news

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Some teams, like the Calgary Flames, have already addressed their goaltending vacancies.

But many others haven’t, so expect tomorrow (July 1) to be a busy day in that regard.

The Philadelphia Flyers are one team to watch. They reportedly won’t be bringing Steve Mason back, leaving some to predict the signing of Brian Elliott.

Elliott, of course, was the guy the Flames hoped could solve their problems in net. Alas, it didn’t work out, and GM Brad Treliving acquired Mike Smith and Eddie Lack instead.

The Winnipeg Jets are another team to watch. Last season, the Jets waived Ondrej Pavelec and went with a tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson. Which didn’t go all that well. Pavelec’s contract is now done, but expect GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to try and land a veteran netminder to pair with Hellebuyck. The Jets have been linked to Mason, but also Elliott.

A number of other teams need backups. The Anaheim Ducks need one for John Gibson — quite likely Ryan Miller. Which brings us to the Vancouver Canucks, who’d then need a backup for Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks have been linked to Anders Nilsson.

Let’s move on to the defending champs, who don’t have have an obvious backup for Matt Murray after Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to Vegas. The Penguins would like to keep Tristan Jarry in the AHL a little while longer, which explains the speculation surrounding Antti Niemi.

The Colorado Avalanche: They lost Calvin Pickard to Vegas, opening a spot behind Semyon Varlamov. Perhaps Jonathan Bernier could fill that role?

The Buffalo Sabres: There’s been talk Chad Johnson could be on his way back. Would make sense if they don’t re-sign Nilsson.

The Boston Bruins: They’ve still got Anton Khudobin under contract for another year, but GM Don Sweeney may look for an upgrade behind Tuukka Rask.

The Toronto Maple Leafs: They could always re-sign Curtis McElhinney to back up Frederik Andersen, but GM Lou Lamoriello may try to do better.

Fleury, Murray and Sullivan all mum on Game 4 starter

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Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said he needed to sleep on his decision for a starting goalie in Friday’s Game 4 versus Ottawa.

So he did.

But the night of rest didn’t change his stance on divulging information.

Sullivan wouldn’t say if Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray would get the call tomorrow, per Sportsnet. Murray relieved Fleury 12:52 into the first period of last night’s contest, after Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots.

Murray finished with 19 saves on 20 shots in an eventual 5-1 loss.

Just to add to today’s intrigue, neither goalie would divulge who gets the next start (per Pens Inside Scoop). But there was a sign of where the decision might be heading at Thursday’s practice — Fleury had his own net, while Murray and third-stringer Tristan Jarry shared the other.

Fleury has been terrific this postseason, which is why Sullivan could be inclined to stick with him. It’s also worth noting that Fleury’s done an excellent job of bouncing back from tough outings. In Round 1, he gave up five goals in a Game 4 loss to Columbus, then stopped 49 shots for a win in Game 5.

Against Washington in Round 2, he was beaten five times on 26 shots in Game 6. He then posted a 29-save shutout in Game 7.

 

Murray returns, will back up Fleury tonight

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Pittsburgh will have a familiar face on the bench for tonight’s massive Game 7 in Washington.

Matt Murray, who hasn’t dressed since suffering a lower-body injury during warmup ahead of Game 1 in the Columbus series, has been declared healthy and will serve as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup tonight, per Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.

Murray, who backstopped the Pens to the Stanley Cup last spring, hadn’t participated with the team until today’s morning skate, replacing Tristan Jarry in the process.

Prior to today, Murray had been skating on his own.

Fleury has fared well in the 22-year-old’s absence, going 7-4 with a .921 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA. That said, the last two games have been rough. Fleury’s allowed nine goals on 58 shots, though it’s tough to blame him for a lot of them. Pittsburgh’s defense has been decimated by injury, most notably by the absences of Kris Letang and Trevor Daley.

As a result, the Pens iced a six-man unit of Justin Schultz, Olil Maatta, Ron Hainsey, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel in Game 6. Schultz led all blueliners in TOI, with 22:13, while Dumoulin finished second at 21:15.