2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 3 Game 5: Sunday Matt-inée

No one who takes themselves seriously likes to be told that they’re not the best at what they do.  It happens to pretty much everyone at some point, and for almost every hockey player it happens on a yearly basis.  Even then, every team that does go on to win the Stanley Cup has players who aren’t starting, who must think to themselves, “Despite this being for the best for my team, I would love to be playing instead of that guy because I want to be known as the best guy.” Marc-Andre Fleury won one Cup in Pittsburgh being the undisputed guy, and he’s also won one where he wasn’t the guy, and I bet last year he looked back at the 2009 run and thought just that.  However, in spite of being the world’s best teammate,  Fleury has been usurped by Matt Murray again.  Somehow, this came as a surprise to a multitude of Penguins fans.

Fleury did a fantastic job this postseason, no question.  Of the years the Penguins have made it past the second round while Fleury’s been around, this season stands sandwiched between 2008 and 2009 for Fleury in terms of quality starts (where his save% in a start is greater than the League average, or 88.5% in starts when facing 20 or less shots).  (This is a pretty good omen if you ask me.) He has done everything he could to keep the Penguins competitive against teams which were not difficult for the Penguins to get goals on.  But, the Ottawa Senators have been a different beast, with the Penguins getting just one goal in each game Fleury started, and the Penguins need every advantage they can get with the Cup six wins away.  Like it not, Matt Murray has performed better in his short career than Fleury; whereas Fleury has a career 49.95% quality start rate, Murray has a career 64.1% quality start rate.  This, along with the Penguins scoring a half-a-goal more per game with Murray in goal versus Fleury, and I have to ask: why is this controversy still a thing?

Murray is the Penguins present and future.  Unlike Fleury, who has been up-and-down psychologically and statistically in his career, Murray has demonstrated a calmness that has not only led to his own success but allows the Penguins’ defense to do something which has been missing with Kris Letang out of the lineup: join the transition and help keep the puck in the offensive zone.  It worked to great effect in Game 4, as two Penguins defensemen were actually able to score.  It just so happened that those two defensemen are two of the least likely to score: Olli Maatta, who has turned himself around as these playoffs have progressed, and Brian Dumoulin, who scores even less frequently than Maatta.  I would argue that it’s Murray’s steadfastness that allowed those defensemen to jump up, while the team probably felt like they had to collapse more and protect Fleury.

For the Senators and their fans, Murray’s return and the Penguins success despite being without three defensemen and two forwards means they cannot rely on their 1-3-1 trap any longer.  They have to get their own offense going, and I’m afraid that they don’t have the firepower in all four lines to make it happen.  You can also see Erik Karlsson starting to run out of steam and that same demoralization and exhaustion is going to keep catching up with them as this series proceeds.  Yes, the Penguins are going to be challenged as far as their depth is concerned (so long as the Senators keep getting away with their cheapshots, Bobby Fucking Ryan), but the Senators don’t have enough depth while fully healthy to keep up with this veteran, relentless Penguins team.

I’m glad the Senators have fans who are really excited and passionate in their home arena (and in our comments section), but as we all saw in Game 4 that only matters for so much.  Both teams have won one game and lost one game at home in this series.  After all, if home ice in the playoffs was a guaranteed victory, the Penguins wouldn’t be at this point, and neither would the Senators.  We like to think that our encouragement helps propel our teams to victory, but it’s ultimately the players who win or lose, and the Penguins are better with many missing players than the Senators are missing none.

When the playoffs began, one of the biggest concerns was how far the Penguins would make it with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.  The answer was nine wins, which was way more than I expected, but Matt Murray makes the Penguins that much better.  There’s a reason we treat Murray like Jesus around here: he’s taken us to the Promised Land once already, and he’s looking to do it again this year.

As usual this time of year the Penguins are pretty tight lipped about their injuries. Chad Ruhwedel is in concussion protocol so he is out. The Penguins cancelled their practice it Ottawa yesterday so they can get the hell home sooner leaving us with nothing but speculation. With Ruhwedel out the question turns to Schultz, who has been out since game 2. If Schultz can’t go the Penguins are looking at potentially playing all lefties (Cole, Hainsey, Dumoulin, Maatta, Daley) and without Schultz the new 6th man is one of Warsofsky, Streit or gulp… Pouliot, who are all lefties as well. Perhaps you can throw Cameron Gaunce in the possible list, but even so the only right handed defender left on the shelf is Frank the Tank Corrado. What does this mean? Nothing. Sullivan loves pairing a rightie with a leftie but he hasn’t had the luxury recently and it’s turned out just fine thanks to the deployment strategy of Martin.

On to the forwards, with no practice yesterday and an early game today we will be hard pressed to get many updates before noon, if we get any at all. Rust and Hornqvist are the biggest concerns obviously, and if Bryan Rust is going through concussion protocol (like Crosby last round) then there would technically be a chance he plays tonight if he cleared all tests yesterday **{this is pure speculation, nothing more, nothing less}**

Regardless of who the team dresses one thing is for sure, The Paint Can needs to be rocking. It needs to feel like the igloo in there. It’s been close at times, but not during afternoon games when the majority of the fans are pissed about having to skip their last mimosa at brunch. Today has to be different. Today it has to be loud, because the team you support has fought with everything they have to turn this in to a best of 3 series, and 2 of those games are in Pittsburgh. It’s time to remember the Mellon, Pittsburgh. It’s time to make PPG so loud to the point where we can’t hear Pierre give some pointless interview while at home. It is time, Pittsburgh, now lets do this.