Welcome to the first in the series of the Pittsburgh Penguins debate pieces during the coronavirus halt. We’ll be examining the sometimes hotly contested issues in the Penguins fanbase and the Penguins organization. The primary conflict in the wild 2019-20 season has been in the Penguins net, as Tristan Jarry assumed the golden boy position against the previous fan-favorite Matt Murray.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has steadfastly refused to publicly confirm a primary goalie, even when his actions said otherwise. From a reporter’s role, the effort to get public information or a different answer from Sullivan has been part of the fun of the current season.
Sullivan’s last foray into the topic began, “As I’ve said many times…”
Fan support quickly lined up behind Jarry, especially after his torrid November and December in which he zoomed to the top of the NHL in save percentage and goals against average.
Fans had already abandoned Murray after glove hand foibles and injuries were one of the 2018 Pittsburgh Penguins struggles which failed to secure a third-straight Stanley Cup. Murray’s inability to plug the disastrous holes in the 2019 Pittsburgh Penguins team defense resulted in sieve-like numbers and cemented skepticism.
Jarry, on the other hand, has no baggage. He never lost a big game, nor has he earned a reputation for soft goals.
Nor has Jarry’s weaknesses been fully exposed, yet. Remember this writer explaining until he was blue in the face (and taking copious amounts of backlash) for explaining that Murray’s weaknesses would come to light, and only after we had a full exposition could we judge his long term viability?
Internally, Sullivan has made decisions. You’ll notice Murray started all three games against the Washington Capitals. That decision wasn’t a series of individual choices, but rather part of the broader strategy. In late January, sources told PHN Murray was the primary goalie. He would start the big games, the playoffs, and coaches told Jarry to be at the ready if Murray didn’t perform up to standards.
“We don’t expect the players to always agree…,” Mike Sullivan said in response to a question about his conversations with the goalies a couple of weeks ago. “But we ask that they respect the decisions.”
Murray stole a pair of games recently. He robbed Buffalo of two points in the brief oasis, which was the Penguins two-game winning streak, which followed their six-game losing streak. And Murray saved two points against the Washington Capitals in the game, which preceded their six-game skid.
Otherwise, both Penguins goalies have recently mirrored the effort and performance of the team as a whole. When the Penguins play well, the goalies have looked good. When the Penguins haven’t played well, the goalies haven’t looked great (gee, it’s funny how that works, huh?).
Coaches chose Murray because they believe he plays his best in big games. There is a standard which they expect and trust Murray to perform to the standard. Jarry, however, had to earn trust. It was painfully obvious after the Penguins sent Casey DeSmith to the AHL as the final cut of training camp, that Sullivan wouldn’t have made that decision if not for salary cap implications.
Jarry played sparingly in the first two months of the season until Murray’s struggles forced Sullivan’s hand. Then Jarry took the chance and ran with it. And he kept running.
Jarry does have support in the organization. There are those in decision making roles who think he will be a bonafide No. 1 goalie.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Murray is the big goalie whose anticipation puts him in the proper position to make tough saves look easy, and whose steady nerves calm the team in pressure situations.
Jarry is the athletic goalie who is also large enough to shrink the net. Murray is 6-foot-4. Jarry is listed at 6-foot-2.
Murray has struggled to maintain his A-game. When he’s not confident, he tends to back into the net and give away his size advantage. And there’s the glove-hand thing, too. Oddly, the Buffalo telecast recently analyzed Murray’s weaknesses and concluded more goals are being scored on Murray’s blocker side. So, take that as you will.
Jarry is sometimes too athletic. He can get scrambly. He can lose position. We also do not know other weaknesses in his game. It takes approximately 100 games for the league to get a book on a goalie (based on research PHN did in 2016). Jarry has played only 62 NHL games, and 29 of those were two seasons ago.
Jarry is very good with the paddle and likes to play the puck.
Just as PHN cautioned fans in 2017 that Murray wasn’t fully formed and the league had not yet pushed back, we’ll make the same caution of Jarry, now.
What will the Penguins do?
Based on conversations with multiple sources at the NHL trade deadline, it appears there is at least one team waiting on the Penguins to make a decision. Interestingly, two sources told us to watch the Colorado Avalanche, but each source named a different goalie the Penguins would keep.
Philip Grubauer’s recent struggles only amplify their need for a big-game backstop.
Both Murray and Jarry will be restricted free agents. Murray won’t take a pay cut and Jarry won’t settle for qualifying offer only 10% more than he made this season ($675,000). So, it would seem the odds are low of keeping both beyond this season.
The conclusion to this season could be THE deciding factor. If Murray were to stumble and Jarry assume the net for a solid playoff run, the decision would seem simple. Just as it may become more simple if Murray backstops a credible playoff run.
IF the season resumes. There remains a panic at the disco, which two weeks seem unlikely to quell.
The other factor to watch is the value on the trade market. If the decision is close, but the above-mentioned team makes a significantly stronger offer for one, that could or should also affect the Penguins decision.
PHN Guess: Murray is the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie next season, but we’re only at 51% comfortable with that guess.