It was the biggest debate since the ‘Dan and Dave’ Olympic Decathlon crisis kicked off by Reebok in the 1991 to generate interest for the ’92 Barcelona Summer Games. It ended with Dan not even making out of the Olympic Trials.
Fast forward to present day Western Pennsylvania and you still get the comparisons of two Stanley Cup winning goalies. One who has seen his stature grow leaps and bounds in the last 8-12 months among a rabid Penguin fan base.
The other, a confident newcomer who exploded on to the scene and took away a starting job while being a huge part of two consecutive Stanley Cup wins.
It’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.
Five years from now, it will still be a hot discussion with Penguins fans.
Given the play of both keepers this season, it is time to take a look and see where we sit.
This season for Murray he holds a 14-12-1 record with a 2.97 GAA. His save percentage is .902 and he owns one shut out to his credit this season. He has been dinged up and missed some time, most notably after getting run into versus the Flyers by Jake Voracek where he injured his leg/knee/lower body.
Fleury with the Golden Knights is 8-2-1 with a beautiful 1.80 GAA and a .944 save percentage and two shutouts. He suffered a concussion versus Detroit on Oct. 13 and returned Dec. 12 against Carolina.
The sample size is small when it comes to Fleury’s stats but given the fortune of both Vegas and the Penguins thus far this year, we can no longer keep the argument quiet in its newer form
Before I dig deeper here you need some background information on ME, your humble advocate.
This is my cat. Her name is Fleury, she is eight years old and yes, named after the former Penguins goalie. Check that light brown colored paw, that’s her ‘glove-hand.’
The reason I incorporated a picture of my lazy, sassy, temperamental feline into this equation: Marc-Andre Fleury was my favorite Penguin of this era. Not Sidney Crosby, Evegni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang or anyone else.
Nope, Marc-Andre was an easy choice for me.
But he would have been the wrong choice for the Penguins moving forward.
‘Wait!!’ you scream, the Penguins just lost 4-0 in horrific fashion on home ice to Carolina. A team that has now beat them twice in a week.
‘See, we made the wrong decision!!!’ you cry as Murray has been leaky in his most recent stretch of games.
‘Trade Ian Cole for Fleury!’ was the cry when the defenseman was rumored to be on the block a month or so ago.
‘And throw in Carl Hagelin while you’re at it…’
…wait, THAT I can’t argue with, sorry.
But in the truest form and fashion and with regards to any sport, there comes a time when you blindly ignore stats and facts in order to get your two cents in.
The Penguins currently sit 22nd in the league in goals scored per game; 2.7 is the number to be exact. If you look at the fact that the power play is ranked FIRST in the league at 25.7 percent, that makes this all the more eye-popping. Quite simply put, if the Penguins do not generate offense on the man-advantage, they are not scoring at all.
Matt Murray will not be putting any pucks into opposing nets any time soon, neither would Tristan Jarry, just to be fair.
Their five-on-five stats are horrid. They have given up 132 goals against on the year, or 3.1 a game. They are -17 in even strength play.
Now you look at personnel; the turnover to the Penguins roster after their second straight Stanley Cup was swift and significant. Gone are, among others: Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. The later two are significant in the fact that they stabilized the bottom six at the center position.
Bonino and Cullen often made sure the lower lines pulled their weight in terms of defensive responsibility and the more than occasional scoring prowess. If those guys were needed to jump into the top-six, they did so, seamlessly.
Fast forward to the here and now, the Penguins third line is one of the lowest scoring third lines in the NHL. The fourth line is almost non-existent too. To go from Kunitz and Bones and Dad to Riley Sheahan, (who actually may be the best of the bottom six crew so far this year) Carter Rowney and others is painful to watch.
Again, Matt Murray can not help in these areas.
Add to this that the defensive core is a mess. Matt Hunwick has been one giant miss for general manager Jim Rutherford after being signed away from Toronto. Kris Letang is a shell of his former self, and that is understandable given all he has been through.
It’s not a knock, it’s a fact, his plus/minus rating of -16 along with his knack for giving away more turnovers than Arbys’ are only compounding his inability to stay healthy.
The team is flat-out tired. Having played an insane amount of games in the last 4-5 years it was bound to happen. There’s no energy, no legs, no drive.
Time and time again it rears its head when the Penguins play a team with speed. They give up odd-man breaks repeatedly, the back-checking is nowhere to be found.
Take a look at other teams who have been very successful over the last 5-7 years. Tampa Bay, Chicago, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, each one of them has had a year in the middle of all their success where nothing went right. Tampa for sure last year, and Chicago in last year’s playoffs and thus far this year.
Another factor in this decision is purely the choice that was best for business.
Marc-Andre Fleury has a couple of stand out years left in him if the arc of an NHL goalie is taken into account. Matt Murray is in his early 20s. Murray is also nearly 1.5 million dollars cheaper. Combined they both make over nine million dollars. It makes no sense to have them both on the roster
‘But, TRISTAN JARRY!!!’ you scream.
C’mon, much like Murray coming out of nowhere, no one can predict the future of the Penguins back up.
While Jarry had more of a pedigree attached to him when he was drafted by the Pens from the Edmonton Oil Kings, there is no way to predict how that potential will play out. Or should we look at a guy who came over from the infamous Jaromir Jagr trade.
‘Matt Murray is too injury prone!!!’ you cry.
Ok, Marc-Andre Fleury is another concussion from chasing a laser pointer up a wall like his feline name-sake above. This is a push.
One last point by me before I wrap this up and it’s gonna sting.
The Marc-Andre Fleury love-fest of the recent past is fun, but let’s get back to a darker time at the beginning of the decade. Maybe the Spring of 2012 to be exact?
The Flyers series, you know, the heavily favored Penguins getting blown up by a team that had no business winning more than a game or two? A team that played the same amount of defense in front of Fleury that the current installment is showing?
The series that fans started calling for Fleury to be replaced and ultimately led him to see a sports psychiatrist.
The same fans who adore him now, sent him to a shrink.
Yep, that time period. Easy to dog pile on the starting goalie and not examine the other glaring problems. This also applies to the back-up quarter back position in the NFL and a starting pitcher in the MLB.
The past isn’t all of the rose-colored glasses as it seems. But the point of it is, if you get the rest of the team together, suddenly and miraculously no one cries about a couple of goals here and there. But no praise is given either.
Until it’s too late and the writing is on the wall.
So go ahead and click-through your channels and watch Marc Andre Fleury when the Knights are on. Stay up late and fawn over the Vegas crowd falling in love with someone who used to be ours.
Time has a way of softening even the hardest of hearts. But don’t misplace your anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Matt Murray will be fine; he’s 23 and more successful in his career than we will ever be. It wasn’t a fluke, he is good, and will only get better in time. Much like a kid drafted from Cape Brenton, Nova Scotia, drafted by the Penguins 1st over all a long time ago.
And for God’s sake, don’t name your animals after your favorite player. Even if she comes with a cute dis-colored paw you convince looks like a glove.
Thanks for reading!