With the news that Matt Murray is out again and considered “week-to-week” with a lower body injury, Marc-Andre Fleury will again resume the duties of starting goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, the question of the net share for the Penguins now needs to expand beyond just the next few weeks. With yet another injury this season, Murray is beginning to get a reputation of being “fragile”. Still technically a rookie, it’s too early for any definitive judgement on Murray, but his injury tendencies need to be considered when planning for the near future. As was discussed earlier this season, the Penguins face one of the more difficult Expansion Draft scenarios this season, as they would be forced to protect Fleury, due to his no-movement clause, and leave Murray exposed to selection should both remain on the roster into June. Many have thus presumed that Pittsburgh will trade Fleury at all costs this season. With growing concerns about Murray’s reliability, that may no longer be the plan. Even though Murray has been vastly superior to his veteran teammate in 2016-17, Fleury still represents a far better option than most potential replacements on the market right now. If the Penguins, surely a Stanley Cup contender again this season, trade Fleury and Murray goes down again, it would cripple their title chances. Same goes for next season as well. Although teams like the Dallas Stars or St. Louis Blues will likely make plays for Fleury in the coming months, Pittsburgh will likely now look at options that include keeping both keepers through the end of this season. More confusion being added to one of the most intriguing stories of the season.
- With Murray out again, the Penguins have recalled goalie Tristan Jarry from the AHL. The player headed back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is defenseman Derrick Pouliot. Once thought to be the future on the blue line in Pittsburgh, Pouliot is struggling again this year and has seen limited play time, prompting his move to the minors for the second time this season. Although he is an analytics darling, Pouliot’s possession ability has not translated into meaningful production at the NHL level. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Pouliot was a superstar with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks as a junior player. He was expected to contribute right away at the highest level, and did play in 34 games in Pittsburgh in his first pro season. However, that dropped to just 22 regular season games and 2 postseason games for the eventual Stanley Cup champions last season and just seven game thus far in 2016-17. Over that time, Pouliot has just two goals and 12 assists (zero points this season) in 63 games while posting a career rating of -10. He also has no points and is a -4 in seven AHL games this year. In a normal season, this could simply be written off as a promising 22-year-old defenseman developing slowly and any premature judgement would be unwarranted. However, this is not a normal season, with the Expansion Draft looming this off-season, and the Penguins need to make a decision on Pouliot. If, as expected, Pittsburgh chooses to protect seven forwards and three defenseman rather than protecting eight skaters overall and risking losing a Patric Hornqvist or Carl Hagelin, then Pouliot appears to be the odd-man-out on the back end. Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin are the obvious choices to be protected by the Penguins. With good defensive depth on the roster and even more NHL experience down at the AHL level, Pittsburgh is not desperate for blue line help right now. While that may change down the line with injuries, the Penguins may still need to look at trading Pouliot while they can. If he fails to move the young defenseman, GM Jim Rutherford will likely lose him for nothing to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who will certainly be intrigued by a recent top ten pick. On the other hand, if Pouliot continues to play this poorly, the Penguins may not lose him after all.
- Meanwhile, Jarry will get his first real NHL experience with Murray out of the lineup. Although Jarry has spent time on the Pittsburgh roster both this season and last, he has yet to make his debut. The Penguins claimed Mike Condon off of waivers earlier this season when Murray was first injured, and he performed well as the backup to Fleury before being traded to the Ottawa Senators. With no such option this time around, expect Jarry to get his first start in the next week or two in relief of Fleury, who has adjusted to part-time work in 2016-17. A 2013 second-round pick of the Penguins, Jarry was a standout prospect from the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and has played well in his first two pro seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.