There was a scary moment for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Toronto on Saturday.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had to leave the game early in the first period after apparently getting cut near the chin or neck by the skate of James van Riemsdyk, as the Toronto forward battled in the crease.
Matt Murray was forced into the game — at least for the moment — as Fleury went to the locker room.
Updated: Good news for the Penguins, as Fleury has returned to the game.
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.
— 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.
— 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.
“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
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)
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.
#Canes GM Ron Francis said Dahlbeck will join the team in Winnipeg, while Nakladal is looking more like Vancouver due to immigration.
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.