Tuesday morning was supposed to be a great day for the Pittsburgh Penguins' organization. They signed winger Patric Hornqvist, who has been an instrumental part of the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, to a brand-new five-year contract extension.
However, the celebrating will have to wait a bit as they learned today that their starting goaltender Matt Murray has been diagnosed with a concussion after taking a puck to the mask during practice.
Unfortunate injury, inopportune time
Losing your starting goaltender is never a good thing, especially the one who has been in net the last two times your team clinched the Stanley Cup, but the timing of Murray going down with another injury couldn’t be worse.
With their win against the Montreal Canadiens Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers jumped over both the Penguins and the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division. In doing so, it dropped the Penguins to third place, two points behind the Flyers, and four points ahead of the New Jersey Devils, who own the top wild-card spot.
Murray has had a trying season, struggling at times in his first year as the undisputed number-one netminder in Pittsburgh. As of late though, he has been nearly unbeatable, going 8-1-1 in his last ten starts, while posting a 2.58 goals-against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%).
Turning back to team’s depth
If things went to according to the Penguins’ plan at the start of the season, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith would be manning the team’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, as one of the league’s better goaltending duos.
Antti Niemi would be backing up Murray, taking over in this situation, and we would get one of the AHL goalies up to back him up in the meantime.
Rarely do things go according to plan in the NHL, and now instead of manning the Wilkes-Barre net, both Jarry and DeSmith will look to hold down the big team's fort while Murray recovers.
For what it is worth, the Penguins appear to be in good hands while Murray is out. Jarry, 22, has been spectacular at times this year, his first real taste of NHL action, but hasn’t seen much playing time with Murray playing well.
Jarry has just two NHL games during the month of February, a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in which he made a career-high 35 saves, followed by getting pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots against the Florida Panthers.
That can be life for an NHL backup, which, despite Jarry’s upside, is what he is at the moment. Through 20 games this season, Jarry has posted a 2.58 GAA along with a .916 SV% and has posted two shutouts.
There will have to be another move done, as Jarry was sent down to Wilkes-Barre in place of DeSmith so that the former can remain eligible for the AHL playoffs.
DeSmith himself is a having a break-out year of sorts through the AHL and NHL. Undrafted, DeSmith has become one of the better goaltenders in the AHL, one who has legitimately outplayed Jarry at times.
In seven games this season, DeSmith has posted a 2.23 GAA, along with a .926 SV%, while sporting a 3-3 record. That’s after allowing four goals on 24 shots in his first two appearances combined.
Is Murray injury prone?
One of the great things about the last two years was having Marc-Andre Fleury, another franchise goaltender, technically being Murray’s backup. At times, when Murray was out, it was hard to notice because the drop off in play was so insignificant.
Now though, it has become easier to notice the number of times Murray has been forced to miss time with an injury, leaving some ready to label him as injury-prone.
While some players do get injured more often than others, it’s not like Murray is constantly pulling a hamstring or groin. He has been forced to miss time before due to a concussion, but injuries like those were more result of bad luck, not due to an injury prone player.
He got hit in the head at practice and was concussed. Whomever was in net at that time was more than likely going to get injured, whether it be Jarry, DeSmith or even Fleury.
The easy thing would be to label him as injury-prone, but the majority of his injuries fall under the category of ‘unlucky’ than anything else.
That’s neither here nor there, the fact remains that the Penguins are down their starting goaltender in a time that it really needs to be all hands on deck.
The division race is getting tighter, and the Penguins will need all the hope they can get, as too much is riding on this season to let it be undone by an unfortunate incident.
Do you feel like Murray is too ‘injury prone’? Can a tandem of DeSmith and Jarry be enough to hold out until Murray gets back? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.