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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Don't Aim for the Foot, Pittsburgh by @BrianK_PI

As Steelers fans can attest, Todd Haley sometimes makes some questionable decisions. Back in 2011 as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Haley decided he was going to buck traditional wisdom and play his starters well into the 4th preseason game to get them even more ready for the regular season. Sure enough, starting TE Tony Moeaki tore his ACL during a time in the game when no team in their right mind would have their starters on the field. Moeaki's career would ultimately be cut short by injury, but coming into 2011 he was one of the few playmakers the Chiefs' offense had. After winning the AFC West at 10-6 in 2010, the Chiefs finished last in 2011 at 7-9, one game behind a 3 way tie for 1st place. Nobody can say that having Moeaki would have definitively put Kansas City over the hump, but an offense that fell to 27th in the league after being 12th the year before could have definitely used another playmaker.

Haley shot his team in the foot by exposing a needed player to injury in a completely meaningless game, and for all that Mike Sullivan has done right so far on the season he got this one horribly wrong. It's not like he didn't understand the meaninglessness of the game and the propensity the Flyers had towards cheap plays; he sat Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang for precautionary reasons. But with starter Marc-Andre Fleury already sidelined with a concussion, the team for some reason felt comfortable starting the only competent goalie they had left in a game that meant absolutely nothing, against a team that had already targeted Murray with a slash to the neck 4 days earlier.

Say what you will about Fleury's supposed readiness, and what the team might have known before the game, but concussions are an injury notorious for setbacks. If Fleury was anything less than 100% healthy and cleared to resume game action before yesterday's game, then the decision to start Murray is even more unjustifiable. Reading between the lines a bit, Sullivan's comments after the game would seem to indicate that the team is uncertain whether or not they'll have Fleury for Game 1. He said he wanted to put the team in the best position moving forward, and that he thought playing Murray against the Flyers would serve him well in the playoffs. Hopefully this is a bit of gamesmanship, but it also plants a seed of doubt over Fleury's status.

And in all honesty, any of the reasons that are offered up supporting the decision to start Murray are complete crap. No, one extra game is not going to somehow make him a better goaltender going into the playoffs. Murray got a taste of what a high stakes environment felt like in the latter stages of the game against Washington. No, Murray hasn't backed up since coming back from the AHL. He started the previous 5 games with Fleury incapable to go, that 6th start wasn't going to get him more game ready. And no, it's a minimum 4 day wait period for the Pens before their first game of the postseason anyways, so it's not a move that would prevent Murray from getting cold going in the playoffs.

At this point all the team can really hope is that further testing on Matt Murray comes back negative, and that the team did indeed hold him out for the rest of the game for precautionary reasons, given how meaningless having him out there was in the first place. If not, they'll need to hope that Marc-Andre Fleury is able to get cleared for playoff action, because even with how well the Penguins have played down the home stretch shoddy goaltending could undo them in the postseason, and their options aren't great. Jeff Zatkoff has shown himself to be a bad goaltender at the NHL level, and his 0.917 SV% and 2.79 GAA probably overstate his goaltending abilities - he has an adjusted 0.908 save percentage in all situations this season. To put that in further context, Murray had a 0.928 AdSV% and Fleury had a 0.921 AdSV%, which were both in line with their season numbers. Tristan Jarry would likely be the backup, but his 0.905 SV% and 2.69 GAA in Wilkes-Barre should shoot down any possible talk that he could be handle the starting job. The Penguins were poised to enter the playoffs with one of their best teams in recent memory, but if they falter because they couldn't get either of their top two goalies in net they'll have no one else to blame; they would have shot themselves in the foot.

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