Mike Sullivan could be called a miracle worker for the part he played in orchestrating the Pittsburgh Penguins’ turnaround this season.
After Saturday’s loss in the regular season finale in Philadelphia, it may have all been for not.
With absolutely nothing at stake against the Flyers Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center (the Pens had already locked up 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division thanks to an overtime win in Washington, D.C. this past Thursday), Sullivan decided that discretion was the better part of valor in scratching Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. Considering that Philadelphia was playing for their playoff lives, sitting the two best players on the team seemed to a be a no-brainer.
The reason behind scratching Crosby and Letang was simple: avoid injuries.
The Penguins’ number-one goalie on the depth chart is Marc-Andre Fleury. He is still dealing with the effects of a concussion suffered back on March 31 against the Nashville Predators when a James Neal wrist shot practically decapitated him.
So there was a debate on who the starting goaltender would be in Philly. Would it be the Pens’ goalie-of-the-future candidate in Matt Murray? Or would it be career backup Jeff Zatkoff?
Murray had played the previous five games after the Fleury injury, notching his first career shutout (in Brooklyn against the Islanders) in the process.
Zatkoff meanwhile, had not seen action since Feb. 20 against the Lightning in Pittsburgh. A game the Penguins lost 4-2.
Spare Injury, Get Some Work In
The smart money for Saturday’s starting netminder was on Zatkoff. If Sullivan were concerned with injuries, then sitting Murray and making sure he were ready – in case Fleury is not – for game one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (which I’ve been told there is a good chance the Pens will begin on Wednesday) was the prudent choice.
Not to mention getting Zatkoff some work in just in case something were to happen to Murray. Not only had “Zack” not seen game action since the end of February, he hadn’t even dressed since prior to the Fleury concussion.
All signs pointed to Zatkoff getting the nod. Yet for reasons that Mike Sullivan has essentially refused to explain, he decided to go with Murray instead.
If it can happen, it will. – Murphy
I’ve never met Murphy, nor do I know anything about him other than his law, but if there were ever a situation in which his famous words could be applied, it was to Mike Sullivan’s goaltending decision on Saturday.
Once the decision was made and it started circulating around social media, there were a few hypotheses on just why Sullivan had decided on Murray.
One such theory that was put forward by Josh Yohe of DKPittsburghSports.com is that the coaching staff was fairly confident in Fleury’s status for the upcoming playoffs.
If this is the case, then perhaps it makes sense that the Penguins went with Murray, wanting to get him one more look before backing up Fleury in the postseason.
– Josh Yohe, Pens beat writer for DKPittsburghSports.com
It makes sense, to a degree. If the Penguins were that confident in Fleury’s return, then the worst case scenario is that Zatkoff backs up Fleury until Murray would recover from whatever injury he might sustain against the Flyers.
Then there is Sullivan’s explanation:
It took Sullivan being asked about Murray four times before he would finally expound on his rationale for starting him in a meaningless game.
The Worst Case Scenario
At 17:25 of the first period in Philadelphia, the biggest fears of everyone in the Penguins’ organization appeared to have become a reality:
Murray made a stop on the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn, but Schenn took a piece of Murray’s mind with him on his way through the crease.
The play itself was in no way dirty. Schenn is simply making a hockey play and taking the only option available to him to try and score. His hip is what dislodged Murray’s mask, and in the process snapping Murray’s neck to his left.
Despite making the save, the outcome of the play could be incredibly detrimental to the Penguins’ Stanley Cup aspirations.
Even though Murray skated off the ice under his own power, he was seen while still down on the ice reaching for his head and neck area. That’s obviously not a good sign.
Now all of a sudden there is genuine fear not only in the organization, but within the fan base as well. The Penguins have emerged as a legit Stanley Cup contender, but now because of a poor decision on the part of the head coach, it may all come crashing down.
Pittsburgh is faced with starting the playoffs with their third-string goalie, seriously hindering their chances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Compounding this is now the Penguins may have to count on their fourth-string netminder should something happen to Zatkoff.
Tristan Jarry is that man, and his April has been nothing short of atrocious. He’s played three games this month for Wilkes Barre/Scranton and has posted a GAA of 4.95 to go along with a .787 save percentage. His season numbers however, are slightly more promising. He is 17-13-2 with a 2.65 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
Jarry’s recall could be simply precautionary.
Fleury and/or Murray may not be cleared for practice on Monday or Tuesday, so Jarry could be called up to give the Penguins another goalie in those sessions.
Needless to say, the recall of Jarry is still very alarming news for a team that is considered by many to the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, concussions don’t come with a cure-all. Concussions themselves come with many different symptoms, and therefore can require different avenues of care. Nor do the all last the same amount of time. Crosby missed nearly an entire season due to a concussion he sustained in the Winter Classic of 2011. Fleury meanwhile, suffered a concussion earlier this season but only missed eight games as a result.
Here’s hoping that Fleury and Murray both stop seeing stars and start seeing Cups in their very near futures.
Pittsburgh, Pa. Class of 2000 graduate from Robert Morris University with a B.A. in Mass Communications. Full-time objective sports fan.