(TORONTO, ON) — It was not a great surprise was Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced he would start goalie Matt Murray in Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens. That part was widely expected, though, as we reported earlier this week, it was less of a certainty than many realized.
On Friday, Sullivan said he would announce his starter on Saturday. True to his word, he did though his tone was short.
“Matt Murray will start,” Sullivan said.
But when a reporter followed up a softball about Murray’s big-game experience, Sullivan defaulted to his months-long answer, which promised the Penguins could win with either netminder.
“Matt has obviously shown an ability to be at his best when stakes are high, and that certainly should provide some confidence for him,” Sullivan said. “We’re fortunate to have the guys we have. … We’ll take each game as it comes, but we feel good about the goaltending tandem that we have.”
Go ahead and re-read that last sentence.
Sullivan had every opportunity to praise Murray and shutdown the goalie controversy that has created differing opinions externally and, as we reported, internally, too.
Instead, Sullivan opened the can of worms that he could switch to Jarry in any game or for any game. That was far from a vote of confidence for Murray, and perhaps that is the point.
Murray played his best hockey in the second half last season after Sullivan declared an open competition between Murray and backup Casey DeSmith. This season, Sullivan again forced Murray to win the starting net, but Jarry is legitimately a potential starting goalie in the NHL.
This season, Jarry, 24, posted the superior statistics. Jarry was an All-Star after peaking with a .943 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average in December. Coincidentally, that was the same time period that Jarry took the vast majority of the starts.
Murray finished the season with an .899 save percentage and 2.87 GAA, but again had a strong second half of the season even as the team began to falter in late February with six straight losses.
Both goalies took Ls in the streak.
Jarry completed the season as the second option in net but with a .921 save percentage and 2.42 GAA. Jarry ranked in the top-10 of the NHL in both categories.
However, those big games about which Sullivan was asked and he referenced were brick-wall performances in the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Finals. Those big games even include regular-season games this season when he beat the Washington Capitals on Feb. 2, despite Washington badly outplaying the Penguins.
So, as expected, Murray will start Game 1 Saturday night against Montreal in the Toronto hub. But, the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach left the door open to ask the same question Sunday or Monday.
“Who will start in goal?”