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‘We Don’t Always Expect (Players) to Agree’: Sullivan Publicly Coy on Goalie Split

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Pittsburgh Penguins Mike Sullivan

Until the NHL issues a special dispensation that allows both Pittsburgh Penguins goalies to play simultaneously, the net isn’t big enough for both of them. The Penguins have two goalies capable of winning NHL games. One goalie won a pair of Stanley Cups before his rookie status expired and the other was selected for the NHL All-Star Game in January.

Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry have proven their bonafides and undoubtedly both want to start a big game against the arch-rival Washington Capitals, but only Matt Murray has gotten the chance. Murray made his third straight start on Saturday and has started all three games against the Washington Capitals, but Sullivan continued to play coy regarding the division of labor on Saturday.

“I’ll tell you guys the same answer I’ve given you for a long time,” Sullivan deadpanned to PHN, which ventured into the well-tread territory. “We’ve got two really good goalies. We’re going to focus on the game in front of us and we’ll make decisions accordingly.”

We should note, the goalie rotation has thus far followed the script which PHN reported last month.  We reported Murray would start the high-pressure games, including the four games against Washington, and be the starting goalie in the playoffs.

The numbers since Jan. 1 have titled back towards Murray. And the Pittsburgh Penguins internal trust factor is still solidly with Murray for big games.

Since the start of 2020 (but before the humbling loss against Washington on Saturday), Murray had a .917 save percentage, a 2.49 goals against average and a 1.11 goals saved above average ranking. Jarry has slipped to a .910 Sv%, a 2.79 GAA and a negative -1.11 goals saved above average. All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com

That’s not to downplay Jarry’s season or his long term future as an NHL goalie, but for those who ask, “why Murray?!” There is most of your answer. Really.

The boxing axiom posits a challenger must knock out the champion because decisions go to the champ. The same is true for a goalie controversy, especially one in which the incumbent has a pair of sparkly Stanley Cup rings.

Sources from the inside let PHN know that Jarry is more than eager for his chance to prove himself. The popular Jarry has taken steps forward this season to not only prove his on-ice play but his off-ice maturity, too.

“We trust both of these guys. They’ve both played really well for us throughout the course of the season,” Sullivan’s public dodge continued.

On Saturday, the Washington Capitals lit up Murray for five goals on 28 shots, but they weren’t exactly soft goals. The Penguins team defense more closely resembled a Keystone Cops caper than the tight structure which propelled their success in the first half. Washington had five goals and all were by uncovered players, on odd-man rushes and backdoor tap ins.

Internally, Sullivan has not been coy with the goalies. As sources with knowledge of the conversations have been telling PHN for weeks, the rotation and pecking order has been established but is subject to change pending changing circumstances. In other words, Matt Murray is the primary goalie and Tristan Jarry is the backup unless Murray stumbles.

“I have conversations with these guys continually. All of these guys. That’s just the philosophy we have as a coaching staff. If guys aren’t playing, we communicate the reasons why,” Sullivan said. “As I say to the players all of the time, we don’t always expect you guys to agree with the decisions the coaches make, but our hope is you respect the decisions the coaches make.”

Sources have also let PHN know at different points this season each goalie has been deeply disappointed by the decisions but indeed the goalies have respected the decisions and haven’t created the types of divisions which can accompany these situations.

Jarry is expected to start on Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins will presumably effort to cover a few more attackers than they did on Saturday. And Sullivan will likely remain coy for a few more weeks.

 

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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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