On March 12, the NHL season was put on pause due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Two nights before, the Pittsburgh Penguins were coming off a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils, led by Evgeni Malkin’s two-goal performance as Matt Murray had an easy night stopping 20 of 22 shots for the win.
Through 69 games played and continuing this summer, there has been debate among fans in Pittsburgh about whether Murray or Tristan Jarry should tend the net for the playoffs. The reality is that both will be needed if the team will be successful in their quest for the 2020 Stanley Cup.
2020 Playoff Format Is a Sprint and Marathon
The road to the Stanley Cup has always been considered a marathon and not a sprint, but this season’s playoff format indicates both elements are true. After being off for almost four months the Penguins will only get one exhibition game before they jump right into a best-of-five playoff qualifying series with the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, Aug. 1. Even though they are heavy favorites, anything can happen in a short best-of-five series so they will need to come out ready play from the first puck drop if they don’t want an early exit.
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Should the Penguins survive the Canadiens, they will then need to gut through four more best-of-seven series in order to claim their sixth Stanley Cup championship. The Final is tentatively scheduled to begin on Sept. 22 and will end no later than Oct 4. This grind will test any team’s depth and ability to shrug off bad games and goals during this grueling two-month tournament.
Two Quality Goalie Options Is an Advantage
There is a philosophy that if you have two starting goalies that means you don’t have any, but that usually applies to teams that do not have two quality options like Pittsburgh.
Murray saw 38 games this season and posted a 20-11-5 record with one shutout and a save percentage (SV%) of .899. Jarry played in 33 games while also winning 20 games but recorded three shutouts with a better SV% of .921.
The big difference is of course the playoff experience. At the age of 26, Murray has two Stanley Cup championships and has played in 48 playoff games with 28-19 record and a 2.16 goals-against average (GAA) and a SV% of .921 with six shoutouts. Jarry has yet to appear in his first playoff game.
Using two goalies in the playoffs is not entirely a new concept and may become necessary, especially with a tightened playoff schedule. In fact, each of the past four Stanley Cup champions used multiple goalies during their playoff runs.
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The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues rode a young Jordan Binnington to their first Stanley Cup championship, but Jake Allen was needed during a pivotal Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Boston Bruins, allowing just one goal in 24 minutes. The veteran Allen was a key in helping the rookie Binnington stay locked in and regain his confidence to finish the rest of the series as the Blues won in seven games.
When the 2017-18 Washington Capitals won their first Cup, people tend to forget that Phillipp Grubauer started the first two games of the playoffs versus the Columbus Blue Jackets before Braden Holtby settled in and helped lead a historic run through the rest of the playoffs.
Penguins fans don’t need to be reminded that both Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were very instrumental in their back-to-back Cup runs in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. During the 2016-17 run, Fleury played in 15 games, going 9-6 with a 2.56 GAA and a .924 SV%, while a then 22-year-old Murray played in 11 games going 7-3 with a 1.70 GAA and a .937 SV%. The 2015-16 Penguins needed three goalies: Murray, Fleury, and even Jeff Zatkoff, who started the first two games in the opening round before Murray came in to finish the series out versus the New York Rangers.
This season, many teams entering the qualifying rounds have unanswered goaltending situations including the Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche.
This Penguins Core Is Battle Tested
This Penguins core led by Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Malkin, and others is a battle-tested group forged by succeeding in virtually any playoff situation. They also have full confidence and proven success playing in front of either Murray or Jarry, and both are very capable of winning playoff games.
Instead of debating which goalie should start for the Penguins, the discussion should be how thankful this team is to have two quality options.
Rob Klein grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan playing pond hockey every winter, and watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC every Saturday. Being able to finally watch his Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup in 1997 was his finest NHL moment. As a fan of the NHL for over 40 years he has been able to follow many great teams and appreciate the history of this great game as well as the remarkable talent that is playing today.