Mike Sullivan has proven to be a really smart head coach in his brief tenure on the Pittsburgh Penguin bench.
But he did something really stupid Saturday. He chose to start Matt Murray in a meaningless game vs. Philadelphia. Murray got injured. It could be a concussion. Starting goalie Marc Andre Fleury has already been sidelined since 3/31 with a concussion of his own. That means third stringer Jeff Zatkoff may have to begin the postseason as Pittsburgh’s starting goaltender.
Like I said, stupid decision. Zatkoff should have started the season finale vs. the Flyers.
Before the “hindsight is 20/20” crowd chimes in, allow me to preemptively retort. It’s not second guessing…when you first guess. As I did. As many other media members did. As many fans did.
None of us who suggested throughout last week to sit Murray should be bragging about it in some sort of “I told you so” schadenfreude though. It was such an obvious move, it didn’t take any brains to say it.
That’s why Sullivan’s order to go the other way is so baffling. For a guy who has been so good at this job so far, this decision is such a departure from logic.
After the game Sullivan tried to defend starting Murray. Even though the Pens were locked into the second seed of the Metro Division. Even though he had already scratched Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang
“You always run that risk (of injury),” Sullivan said to reporters. “The coaching staff felt like this was a good opportunity for Matt to gain a level of experience in a high stakes environment.
Let’s stop right there for a moment. First of all, yes, you do always run the risk of injury. Which is why he shouldn’t have been playing in that situation.
Secondly, it wasn’t a high stakes situation. If it was a high stakes situation, 87 & 58 would have been on the ice!
This notion has been floated out many times by Sullivan’s defenders on this topic. And it’s flawed. The stakes may have been high for Philly. But they weren’t for Pittsburgh. This wasn’t a simulation of pressure for Murray like he’ll have to endure if he has to play in the postseason.
What I’ve gathered from athletes over decades of talking to them about “pressure” has little to do with how hard the other team happens to be playing.
No, they’ve described pressure to me as trying to stay calm in the face of wanting so badly to win for you and your teammates. And trying to stay calm while fretting over how much you want to avoid letting yourself and all of them down.
There was no such pressure associated with Saturday’s game.
“He’s backed up since he has been up (in the NHL),” Sullivan continued. “So we thought another game under his belt would be good for him and would serve him well in the playoffs.”
Wait. Isn’t the oldest cliche in the NHL book “There is no comparison between regular season hockey and playoff hockey”?
Plus, if they Flyers really were “playoff-desperate”, weren’t they also playing close to that level when they weren’t assured of a wild card spot a week ago as Murray was beating them 6-2? Shouldn’t the Islanders have been desperate too when Murray shut them out the day before?
And if we really want to talk about tactically testing the goalies, it would have been wise to get 60 minutes under Zatkoff’s belt since, you know, “you always have that risk of injury” in the playoffs too. Wouldn’t it have been prudent to let him knock off the rust if he needed to play before Fleury’s return? Keep in mind, he hasn’t seen game action since 2/20.
Mike Sullivan has been an excellent hire as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s been so good, that even his first real screw up may not cost him or his team. Fleury may still start Game 1 in the playoffs for all we know. And Murray may be available.
Make no mistake, though. Sullivan still screwed up.