Matt Murray has not looked like the goaltender that helped Pittsburgh win back-to-back Stanley Cups recently. And with the news that he has been placed on injured reserve with a lower-body ailment, it is clear that whatever has been bothering Murray for the past few weeks, it could not be put off any longer.
It’s been a rough season for the Penguins, who currently sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, just one point up on the last-place Florida Panthers. Goaltending has been a big issue, with Murray struggling throughout and backup Casey DeSmith forced into service more than expected.
So far, DeSmith has fared pretty well, with two shutouts and a .924 save percentage in 10 decisions. But the 27-year-old had also given up 11 goals in three straight losses before he and Pens wrapped up Dallas the other night for a win. This is just DeSmith’s second season of NHL action and at six feet tall, he can’t rely on size to get the job done. What will his track record look like in a month, once opponents have a book on him? For Pittsburgh’s sake, hopefully DeSmith’s skills can keep them competitive, because there aren’t too many other options out there.
Internally, Pittsburgh has called up Tristan Jarry, who won a Memorial Cup with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and does have NHL experience. But Jarry was also given a whirl by the Pens last season and in 26 appearances, he logged just a .908 save percentage. And the team in front of him now isn’t as good as the one we saw last year.
We could speculate about the Penguins going out and getting another netminder, but I’m not sure there’s a deal worth making right now. Pittsburgh has a very shallow prospect pool, befitting of a franchise that went for it all several years in a row. And hey; they won the Cup twice, so it was clearly the right move – but now we’re seeing the fallout.
Really, this is the natural lifespan of an NHL team, albeit one that GM Jim Rutherford has been able to extend thanks to some cagey deals and the fact he’s had aces Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his lineup during this epoch. We’ve seen Chicago and Los Angeles struggling after great successes in the recent past and it’s only natural for a fall in the salary cap era.
Which is why the Penguins probably just have to grin and bear whatever happens for the rest of this season. If there is long-term concern about Murray’s game this summer, perhaps the Penguins test free agency waters. Semyon Varlamov may be available, possibly Jimmy Howard and Cam Talbot, too.
The only major free agent Rutherford needs to re-sign this summer is Jake Guentzel, and he’s a restricted free agent. And Murray himself has a very reasonable cap hit of $3.7 million, so there’s a cap argument to be made for bringing in a 1B netminder.
Let’s also remember that Murray’s best years in Pittsburgh came when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury was with him, giving the youngster both a safety blanket and an experienced voice whenever he needed it.
I don’t think we can give up on Murray, but he will need time to recover from a difficult post-Fleury era so far. If that means this season is a write-off for the Penguins, then so be it. If that means he needs another experienced goaltender along for the ride, then perhaps that’s the avenue Pittsburgh must drive down, too.