Penguins turn back to Matt Murray in net, but goals are what they really need
The 22-year-old Murray replaces Marc-Andre Fleury, but it's goals that Pittsburgh needs most
When Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled from the net in the Pittsburgh Penguins' of the Eastern Conference finals, speculation began about the veteran's immediate future as the defending Stanley Cup champions' starting goalie.
And the Pens left no doubts about Fleury's immediate future -- a future on the bench -- when they announced Friday that Matt Murray, who would have opened the playoffs with a shot at a second straight title run before a pregame injury sidelined him indefinitely, will return to the net to start Game 4 against the Ottawa Senators.
The move marks a notable transition for the Pittsburgh defense.
Fleury, after all, was a big reason the Pens made an opening-series rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets look easy, and his efforts were equally prominent in a seven-game slugfest with the Washington Capitals. But he's had his fair share of lows in a career of postseason appearances, too. A big one came Wednesday in Game 3, when he was out of position on a Sens goal in the first minute and allowed Ottawa to go up 4-0 in the first 13 minutes.
In Murray, the Pens get their Stanley Cup-winning youngster back in the mix, and it's a good bet the 22-year-old will want to make sure Fleury's role is relegated to the bench.
But whether or not the goalie gamble pays off -- and it is a gamble, considering Fleury has two shutouts in his last four games -- is not nearly as important as Pittsburgh bringing its offense back to life.
Fleury has produced both astounding and underwhelming performances since the start of the conference finals, but the one thing that's most been missing from the Pens' battle with Ottawa is simple.
One look at the scoreboard from each of Pittsburgh's showdowns with the Senators and it shouldn't take long to see that the Pens have been absolutely bottled up by Guy Boucher's blue line.
Game 1: One goal in more than three periods. Game 2: One goal. Game 3: One goal.
Those are not typical Penguins numbers, and that goes for when Sidney Crosby and Co. are matched up against formidable defensive teams. Yes, Pittsburgh is banged up, but that has been true for much of the postseason and figures to be without a trio of forwards, including Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist, for Game 4 as well. But if ever the pressure was on Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and an ever-frustrated Evgeni Malkin to create space and finish toward the net, it is now.
The Pens clearly have the talent to score. Ottawa's got Erik Karlsson on its side, but who in their right minds could have guessed that the Senators, through three games, would have seven goals to Pittsburgh's three?
And it's not as if the defending champions need the kind of offensive outpouring of which their full-speed lines are capable. Right now, at this juncture, they just need something. They need to show they are alive, much like they did after a deflating Game 6 loss to the Capitals.
Chances are, even with a monster outing for Karlsson, the Senators are not going to have another five-goal night against the Pens. Chances are good, in fact, that Ottawa will keep trying to win as it did in Game 1, with a low-scoring affair that highlights its stingy defensive work.
And in a low-scoring affair, with all the firepower they possess, the key for the Penguins is simply to wake up offensively.
Banged up or not, with or without Fleury in the net, they simply have to start scoring.
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