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Penguins’ Sullivan says Game 5 goaltending decision is ‘a nice problem to have’

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hasn’t decided whether Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury will get the call in goal for Game 5, and he says he won’t have made that choice until Sunday. It could be the biggest decision of Sullivan’s tenure as the Penguins bench boss.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he’ll wait at least one more day to make what could be the biggest decision of his tenure behind Pittsburgh’s bench.

Sullivan has not yet announced which netminder — 21-year-old Matt Murray or veteran Marc-Andre Fleury — will get the call in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final Sunday. The decision comes after Murray, who has been the Penguins’ starter for nearly the entire post-season, allowed four goals on 30 shots through two periods of action in Friday’s Game 4. Murray was pulled after two frames in favor of Fleury.

It was Fleury’s first appearance in 50 days and in 18:26 of action the 31-year-old stopped all seven shots he faced. The Penguins nearly completed an improbable comeback by notching three goals in the third period, and Pittsburgh’s performance with Fleury in goal has Sullivan contemplating a possible change between the pipes.

Though it wouldn’t necessarily be shocking if Sullivan were to switch netminders and throw Fleury in for Game 5, there’s no reason to lay the blame for Game 4’s loss at the feet of Murray because there’s little the youngster could have done to change the outcome of Friday’s contest.

“We thought Matt made some big saves,” Sullivan said. “The goals they scored, they were high quality chances. They would have been tough saves. So (the switch in Game 4 was an) opportunity to get Marc some game action. Sometimes, when you make that type of a decision as a coach, it has an impact on the group in front of the goaltender. I thought we had a strong portion in the third period, but when you're in a four-goal deficit, it's tough to crawl back into that one.”

Sullivan’s right, too: it would have been tough to expect Murray to make stops on the four goals he allowed. The first goal against came on a deflection by Ryan Callahan, and though it was only 27 seconds into the contest, the puck changed direction enough to fool Murray. From there, it was a perfect cross-ice pass that resulted in Andrej Sustr’s marker and two friendly bounce thats led to tallies by Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson. And it’s not as though Murray allowed the four goals on only a few shots. The 30 shots he faced through 40 minutes was the most action he had seen in any game of the series.

As has been previously written, Murray has had the ability to bounce back from poor performances — although, again, Murray had far from a ghastly outing in Game 4. Murray has never had consecutive games with a sub-.900 save percentage, and on the three previous occasions this post-season he has posted a save percentage below the .900-mark he has rebounded well. Against the Washington Capitals, he came back with .958 and .923 SPs following defeats, and he stopped 19 of 21 shots in the Game 2 win over Tampa Bay.

This isn’t to say Fleury wouldn’t be a good option, however. Before he suffered his second concussion of the season, Fleury was in the midst of one of the best statistical performances of his career, posting a 2.29 GAA and .921 SP in 58 games during the regular season.

Switching to Fleury for Sunday’s game shouldn’t be based upon the Penguins’ play with him in goal for the final frame of Game 4, though. Score effects generally dictate a team trailing by a wide margin can achieve the run of play as the team with the lead is focusing more on defending than attacking. The Eastern Conference final has been owned by the Penguins for the most part, but the third period of Game 4 had as much to do with score effects as it did with Pittsburgh’s puck possession ability.

That doesn’t make Sullivan’s decision any easier or any less important, but he seems confident whichever goaltender plays will be the right choice.

“We feel we have real quality goaltenders,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got three guys that have helped us win all year. Marc's a real good goalie. Matt's played extremely well for us, making timely saves. He did it again last night. So it's a nice problem to have when you have that quality of goaltenders.”


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