Fleury: ‘I should have been better’


Mike Sullivan made his decision.

The Pittsburgh Penguins coach opted to go with Marc-Andre Fleury, the franchise goalie since being taken first overall in 2003, instead of 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s a decision that immediately invited second guessing and criticism, and that is likely to continue following Sunday’s result.

The Penguins — without Trevor Daley for the remainder of the playoffs due to a broken ankle — lost 4-3 in overtime, unable to hold on to a one-goal lead in the third period, and now face elimination in the third round. The Bolts are one win away from clinching a second straight berth in the Stanley Cup Final, and that’s without Steven Stamkos or Ben Bishop in the lineup.

Fleury was making his first start of these playoffs. His first start since March 31. He allowed four goals on 25 shots. Alex Killorn started the scoring for Tampa Bay, his wrist shot going over the shoulder of the Penguins puck stopper and cutting into Pittsburgh’s two-goal lead at the time.

It would seem Sullivan has another decision ahead of him when it comes to his starting goalie for a must-win Game 6.

“I’m not going to assess his game right after the game. It’s obviously a disheartening game we just lost. I’d rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions,” said Sullivan of Fleury to reporters following the loss.

This is the first time in the post-season the Penguins are facing elimination.

“I know that our guys will respond the right way. They have for four months, five months now,” said Sullivan.

“I told them after the game it’s disappointing, we’re all disappointed we didn’t get the result tonight, but we can’t change it. So all we’ve got to do is we’ve got to gather ourselves, we’ve got to go back at it, and try to win a game.”

Flower Power: Pens turn to Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 6, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The big question going into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final has been answered.

After Sunday’s morning skate, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that his team would be making a major lineup change going into Game 5. Marc-Andre Fleury is in, Matt Murray is out.

Fleury made his 2016 postseason debut in the third period of Game 4 after Murray got the hook. The switch seemed to spark the Penguins, as they were dominant in the third period (they still came up short in the end).

The St. Louis Blues swapped Brian Elliott for Jake Allen going into Game 4 of the Western Conference Final and that worked out pretty well. The Penguins will see if making a change in goal will have similar results for them. Of course, it’s a lot less risky when the goalie you’re bringing off the bench has won a Stanley Cup before.

That may not be the only change for the Penguins. Trevor Daley, who injured his foot in Game 4, wasn’t on the ice for the morning skate. It looks like Olli Maatta will take his spot in the lineup. Also, Conor Sheary stayed on the ice for some extra work after the morning skate. He could be coming out of the lineup for Beau Bennett.


Fleury makes 2016 playoff debut after Pens give Murray the hook in Game 4

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 06: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 6, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It’s safe to say that the first two periods of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final won’t go down as the best in Penguins’ history.

The Lightning opened the scoring 27 seconds into the game and they didn’t stop there. After 40 minutes, they’ve jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

Now, the Pens will attempt to shake things up going into the third period, as they’ve pulled Matt Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury has yet to see any playoff action in 2016. The 31-year-old hasn’t played in a game since Mar. 31 against Nashville. He had a 35-17-6 record with a 2.29 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage this season.

The move seems to have paid off early. Phil Kessel finally got the Penguins on the board early in the third period.

Can Fleury get the starting gig back with a good showing in the third period?


Murray stays in the game after taking hit to the head

Pens GM says Fleury is ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh

Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

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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Matt Murray‘s emergence this postseason has led to questions about Marc-Andre Fleury‘s future in Pittsburgh (see here and here and here).

But if you ask Pens GM Jim Rutherford about it — like WPXI’s Alby Oxenreiter did on Thursday — you’ll get a pretty definitive answer.

From the NHL:

Q: What about the young players?

Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”

Q [from Oxenreiter]: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?

Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”

That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.

First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.

That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.

One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.

With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.

Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.

As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season.

It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.

Rutherford’s move could be to give Fleury an option for his future. Something like:

“If it’s not going to be in Pittsburgh, want to try and choose a location? Or risk having your location (Vegas) chosen for you?”

A landing spot that’s making the rounds is Calgary. The Flames don’t have a legit NHL starter under contract for next season and, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatshek points out, Fleury could be the ideal “transitional guy.”

“In a perfect world you’d bring in a young guy who can play for you for a long time and grow and mature with your group, but if that guy isn’t available and if you think [goalie prospect] Jon Gillies can be that guy in a few years down the road, then you just need a transitional guy,” Duhatshek said, per Sportsnet. “The acquisition cost for a guy like Fleury… that might just be taking him off your hands, free the money off the books, and it doesn’t cost you a tangible asset off your roster.”

Money’s a key part of all this. In the end, money could end up trumping all.

Because as good as Fleury’s been for Pittsburgh, as good as he might continue to be and as well-liked in the room as he is, the Penguins 1) have their goalie of the future in Murray, 2) are hovering very close to the salary cap ceiling, and 3) could certainly use nearly $6 million in cap relief.

It might have to come via trade this summer, because there’s no guarantee Fleury would be picked at a potential expansion draft next year — and who knows where his market value would be by then?

Whether they like it or not, Rutherford and the Pens may need to act sooner rather than later.

No matter now much they love the Flower.

Murray or Fleury? Sullivan plays coy about Pens’ Game 2 goalie

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 13:  Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins walks to the ice prior to Game One of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

One would imagine that Matt Murray‘s job is safe, at least for Game 2.

The guy behind him has a Stanley Cup ring and a $5.75 million cap hit, so any loss will probably prompt people to bring up the name Marc-Andre Fleury.

The question, naturally, is how likely will it be to see Mike Sullivan turn to Fleury instead of Murray against the Tampa Bay Lightning? Perhaps to little surprise during these tight-lipped times in the playoffs, Sullivan played coy.

Even so, Sullivan didn’t throw Murray under the bus by any means.

“As far as what went on last night, we feel as though Matt had a very strong game,” Sullivan said. “The goals that were scored were high-quality chances. Very difficult saves. So I don’t think it’s an instance where Matt had a sub-par performance.”

He then reiterated that it doesn’t mean that the Penguins won’t turn to Fleury regardless.

Still, Murray’s bailed out the Penguins more than once this postseason, and who knows how rusty “The Flower” might be? Judge for yourself if Murray put Pittsburgh in a position to compete in Game 1: