The Pittsburgh Penguins have got a big problem in net, two big problems if you consider goaltenders Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry as separate issues. The biggest problem is there’s no clear solution.
Murray vs. Jarry vs. DeSmith
Assuming third-stringer Casey DeSmith isn’t the answer, just like at the beginning of the season the Penguins must still choose between Murray and Jarry. Unlike at the beginning of the season, the stakes are much higher at this juncture. The Penguins have 14 games left and are clinging to third place in the Metropolitan Division by a handful of points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are hot on their trails, three points back (12 games remaining). The Carolina Hurricanes, who are suffering through a goaltending crisis of their own yet still managed to beat the Penguins 6-2 on Sunday, are now five points back with one game in hand. Same goes for the ninth-place New York Islanders. Coincidentally, the Penguins face all three in consecutive games later this week. So, all of a sudden, a Penguins playoff berth is no longer a foregone conclusion. That’s what going 2-8 over the last 10 does to a team.
To be clear, the Penguins aren’t just 2-8 over their last 10 games (with the wins coming against the non-playoff Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres). They’re also giving up more goals than a guidance counselor on career day. Outscored 40-23 in that span (almost a 2:1 ratio), the Penguins wouldn’t be in such dire straits if at least one of their goalies were stopping the puck at a respectable frequency. Even if the Pens weren’t hurting to the degree they have been in front of their goalies with their massive amount of man-games lost, it would be hard to score more than four per game on average.
Injuries shouldn’t be an excuse though, for the simple reason that the Penguins have theoretically tightened up on defense by giving up an average of 27.4 shots in those games (29.8 on the season). Murray, who has the Pens’ two wins, has started six of the last 10 games. He has a save percentage of .866 in that span. Jarry has a mark of .845 over the other four.
Murray Has Larger Edge over Jarry
Obviously, Murray “wins” in that sense, but it’s not as simple as that. The saying goes to dance with the one who brought you, but, even then, it would be hard to choose. Jarry arguably has the edge, having gone 20-12-1 this season with a 2.43 goals-against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage. For what it’s worth, he was also named to the All-Star Game.
In sharp contrast, Murray has a 2.89 GAA and .898 save percentage. However, his record is at 19-11-5, which isn’t that much worse. It at the very least shows a propensity on his part to still get the job done in spite of his undeniable struggles. Nevertheless, it’s his record since he entered the league that should be of most interest to head coach Mike Sullivan, as he seeks to wade through this latest, worst kind of goaltending controversy.
Murray has won two Stanley Cups, technically both as a rookie. Now going on 26, having served as the Penguins’ starter for the last four seasons, he has even more experience from which to draw, especially with regard to Jarry. Jarry may be the goalie who’s had the most success recently. However, Murray’s the one who’s had the most success overall. If this were indeed prom, he’d be the high-school sweetheart about whom you can’t stop thinking (even if you’re there with someone else).
Jarry obviously deserves credit for the season he’s put together up to now, but it’s not about the games he played up to February. It’s about the games to come and, with neither goalie playing all that well, or, you know, well at all, Murray is the clear choice based on his track record.
Go with Murray over Jarry
Back at the start of the season, any suggestion to trade Murray due to the crowded crease the Penguins faced would have been met with skepticism at the very least. That was even after Murray suffered through two seasons of relative inconsistency (before suffering through the mediocrity of this one). After all, this was a two-time Stanley Cup champion in his theoretical prime on a cost-effective deal that we were talking about, right?
It’s almost the exact same situation right now, except for one small difference. You’re stuck with him. The deadline has passed, after all. It’s not all bad though, especially seeing as Jarry suddenly isn’t a decent alternative. Whereas Jarry has 62 NHL games on his resume, Murray’s is more than three times as long and infinitely more impressive. The Penguins have got to make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation here. They have no choice.
Sure, Jarry can get his groove back, but so can Murray and the moves he’s busted in the past prove he’s the safer bet… especially in the playoffs, where the Penguins cannot realistically switch between both every few games. A decision has to be made sooner rather than later, before it’s too late and they miss them altogether. So, don’t overthink it: Go with the goalie who you know can win it all (twice). Simple as that. As far as solutions go, it may not be clear-cut, but it makes the most sense. It’s the best the Penguins have got.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.