CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP — The Pittsburgh Penguins will have to try to shake out of their early season funk without goaltender Matt Murray. And the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are now without both members of their successful tandem from the start of the season.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions placed Murray on injured reserve Tuesday with a lower-body injury. That prompted Pittsburgh to call up Casey DeSmith from the farm club, as he will now back up Tristan Jarry for the foreseeable future.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan called Murray “week to week” after the 23-year-old left Monday night’s 5-4 overtime win over Philadelphia in the second period following a collision with Flyers forward Jakub Voracek.
Voracek lost his edge while finishing off a breakaway attempt and crashed into Murray, forcing the back of the goaltender’s right leg into the goal post.
Murray was on the ice for several minutes before making his way to the bench and limping down the runway to the locker room while favoring his right leg.
Jarry came in and stopped 8 of 10 shots as the Penguins rallied from a two-goal deficit to win. Jarry, a 22-year-old rookie, is 2-0-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average in limited play this season. He is expected to take over the bulk of the workload during Murray’s absence. Pittsburgh begins a home-and-home series with Buffalo on Friday.
DeSmith and Jarry could very well split starts in the back-to-back situation.
“It’s actually pretty wild after being goalie partners last year,” DeSmith said. “It’s kind of weird just one year later (we’re in the NHL). It happened pretty quick. I’m happy to be down here with someone I’m familiar with.”
As for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the AHL net will now be minded by Sean Maguire and Colin Stevens, who just signed a professional tryout offer on Tuesday to coincide with DeSmith’s promotion.
Maguire was drafted by Pittsburgh back in 2012 and signed a pro deal for the 2016-17 season, but he has yet to make a start above ECHL Wheeling, where his numbers have not been stellar.
In 12 games this season for the Nailers, Maguire has a 3.28 goals against average and a .910 save percentage, with the latter number a notable improvement over the .897 he posted in Wheeling last season.
Stevens, meanwhile, is on his second PTO with the Penguins this season. He has served as a backup in Wheeling, appearing in three games this fall.
It has been an eventful few months for goaltenders in the organization.
Murray is 11-7-1 with a 2.95 GAA this season. He helped the Penguins become the first franchise in nearly 20 years to win consecutive Stanley Cups in June and became the de facto No. 1 goaltender when Pittsburgh lost Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas in the expansion draft over the summer.
Pittsburgh acquired veteran Antti Niemi to serve as Murray’s backup, but the experiment lasted less than a month before Niemi was waived due to poor play.
Sullivan downplayed questions about the slim 6-foot-4, 178-pound Murray’s durability. Murray missed time last season with a hand injury and later a concussion. His 21 appearances this season are tops in the NHL.
“Injuries are part of the game and Matt’s a young guy,” Sullivan said. “He’s only going to get stronger, he’s only going to get more durable with each game that he plays and I think he’ll be fine.”
The Penguins are tied with Washington for fourth in the Metropolitan Division more than a quarter of the way through the season. The team did get some good news on Tuesday. Center Evgeni Malkin is scheduled to travel to Buffalo and could be available after sitting out the past four games with an upper-body injury.
It remains to be seen whether Pittsburgh will look to add a veteran goalie at either the NHL or AHL level in the interim. Multiple outlets have reported the Penguins are looking to trade defenseman Ian Cole, who has been a healthy scratch for the past week.
“He’s part of our team, he’s a valuable piece, he’s an important part of our hockey team,” Sullivan said. “Just because a player comes out of the lineup doesn’t mean we don’t value what he brings.”
Cole admitted he’d love to be playing and considers the Penguins family.
“I try to look at it as unfortunate situation, one you can try to take advantage of and get better or you can mope around and be miserable and be a distraction for your team,” Cole said.