PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was short and sweet when asked his thoughts about the losses in Games 3 and 4 and how that might affect his decision on a goaltender for Game 5.
“We haven’t lost games because of our goaltending,” he said. “That’s my thought.”
Matt Murray will probably be the starter Thursday night after losing back-to-back games to the Nashville Predators, which has evened the Stanley Cup Final at two. But it hasn’t stopped the questions of whether Sullivan will go back to Marc-Andre Fleury.
“If they need me, I’ll be there,” Fleury said after Wednesday’s practice.
Both Murray and Fleury want to play, but the decision, as they both acknowledged, is out of their hands. Fleury hasn’t played since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, while Murray is coming off a pair of losses where he allowed eight goals.
The Penguins have been out-shot, out-possessed and, outside of a couple of periods in the series, outplayed. But as Sullivan said, the two Predators wins in this series haven’t happened because of poor play from Murray.
“As I mentioned after the game [Monday] night, there are some goals that are scored because good players make good plays, and you’re playing against a good team. Sometimes that happens,” he said. “Then there are other circumstances where goals are scored where, as a team or a coaching staff, we feel we can do a better job in avoiding those situations. There were one or two of them in the game last night that we felt we could have done a much better job. We think they were preventable goals. If we make certain reads in those situations, we’re going to learn from those experiences.”
There is no simmering rivalry between the two goaltenders, just one of mutual support. Murray says he’s relied on Fleury for advice about the same this season as he did last year, his first experience in the NHL. What he learned during the Cup run last year has also proved to be valuable as he attempts to replicate that success.
“I don’t want to get into specifics or anything but just having gone through it, I think I feel a little more comfortable,” Murray said. “You learn how to take things one shot at a time, one game at a time and not get ahead of yourself and not dwell on what’s happened.”
Despite the two losses and the pucks finding their way behind him too many times for his liking, Murray’s assessment of his play is different than what you might think.
“It’s probably human nature to say you let in five goals, you probably didn’t play so well. I honestly felt really sharp,” he said. “I felt my movements were really good that game. I was finding pucks through traffic pretty well for the most part. Might be going against human nature to do it, so that’s what makes it difficult at times, but again, that’s a perfect example right there where I felt like I played pretty well but we let in five goals. That’s kind of hard to justify one way or another by just the result.”
That assessment mirrors that of Sullivan on his team’s performance. Goaltending wasn’t the problem for the Penguins in Games 3 or 4, and it’s on the skaters in front of Murray to relieve some of the pressure.
“When you look at the second period [of Game 4], we get four grade A scoring chances in the first three and a half minutes of the period, and the puck doesn’t go in for us. We’re not going to overthink this as a coaching staff,” Sullivan said. “That game that was played [Monday] night was a whole lot closer than the score indicated. At least that’s how we feel, that’s what we believe based on what we watched. We just think we’re going to make sure we continue to focus on those things that we can control, and we believe that we have some guys that are due to score some goals here.
“They’ve had some high-quality chances, and the puck hasn’t gone in the net for the last couple of games. We believe if we continue to try to do the right things out there, we’ll score.”
– – – – – – –
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY: