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Casey DeSmith to Start ‘For a Lot of Reasons’; Matt Murray Returns

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PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 27: Casey DeSmith #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins cannot make a save on a goal by Kyle Palmieri #21 of the New Jersey Devils in the first period during the game on February 27, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray has been cleared to return from the concussion he suffered earlier this week or last Saturday when the Penguins hosted Montreal. However, Penguins backup goaltender Casey DeSmith will get the start in Montreal.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, who called DeSmith the Penguins best player Thursday, cited that performance as part of the decision.

“It makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons,” Sullivan said. “Number one, he was very good and was deserving of the start. Our coaching staff feels its the right decisions for a lot of reasons.”

The team announced Murray was diagnosed with a concussion on Tuesday, but Murray was a full participant in the morning skate, Thursday and practice on Friday. It was Murray’s second concussion since February and his third in his three-plus-year NHL career.

“It’s really hard to compare one concussion to the next. The nature of that injury is they are all very different,” Sullivan told reporters. “Sometimes guys recover extremely quickly. Other times, it lingers. It depends on how it occurs. There are so many things associated with it.”

For now, Murray’s quick return should quell talk of Murray’s health and inability to stay healthy. The Penguins will undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief. With a steady personality and a pair of Stanley Cups, Murray has become a team leader, which is something Murray professed to want, in September.

“We know the influence he’s had on this team over the last number of years. That has been part of the success this organization has enjoyed,” Sullivan said Murray. “We believe Matt is a guy who only makes us stronger. in that regard.”

Murray needs a rebound season and but has been both a culprit and a victim of the Penguins sloppy first two games. Like many of Murray’s teammates, his statistics do not yet reflect a rebound season. Murray posted a .831 save percentage and 5.47 goals against in the first two games of the season. Diving into advanced analytics, his goals saved above average was in negative territory (-4.86) and neither the win over Washington or the loss to Montreal qualified as a quality start.

Last season, Murray stumbled behind the Penguins struggling defense to a .907 save percentage.

DeSmith won the backup job this season with a solid training camp and with superior statistics last season. DeSmith posted a .921 save percentage and a goals saved above average rating of 3.25 in 14 appearances.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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