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Penguins notebook: Goalie Matt Murray ready to face his 'biggest mentor'

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, 9:12 p.m.

LAS VEGAS — Matt Murray has only one regret about the relationship he had with Marc-Andre Fleury over the past two seasons.

That it didn't last longer.

On the eve of a potential matchup Thursday night in Las Vegas of the last two goalies to win a Stanley Cup championship for the Penguins, Murray expressed respect and admiration for his former goaltending partner.

“He was definitely my mentor, the biggest mentor I've had in my pro career,” Murray said. “I wish I had more time to study under him and more time to be around him, but unfortunately we're on different sides now.”

Technically, Murray's status remains a game-time decision as he works his way back from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 27. Coach Mike Sullivan was optimistic, however, that Murray will be good to go.

“He looks strong,” Sullivan said. “He's progressing really well.”

Murray said the only part of his game that remains untested is the ability to make saves while being knocked around.

“You can't really duplicate a game no matter how hard you try,” Murray said. “Maybe the traffic will be the one thing, dealing with a little bit of contact, playing through that contact with no hesitation, no fear of aggravating it. It's just about kind of jumping in head-first rather than dipping your toes in the water.”

Leaning left

Sullivan shook up his line combinations after a 2-1 loss to Colorado on Monday night. The biggest change was right wing Patric Hornqvist playing on the left side of the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

“He's a guy that goes to the net, goes to the battle areas, plays a pretty simple game,” Sullivan said. “Whoever that guy is that plays with Geno and Phil, the coaches feel as though we need a little bit more net traffic and net presence. It might encourage them to shoot the puck a little bit more.”

Hornqvist has rarely played the left wing in his Penguins career, but he said he's willing to give it a shot.

“I feel comfortable playing the left,” he said. “You know what? We have to get better and change the lineup a little bit.”

Hornqvist expressed optimism that his game will mesh well with Malkin and Kessel's.

“It makes my job a little easier,” Hornqvist said. “I just go even harder in front of the net and make space for them. I don't want to have the puck. They should have the puck. But we have to make sure we take it to the net too.”

Expansion life

While the Penguins might find the sight of Fleury in another team's jersey surreal, Thursday night's game will be nothing new for the Golden Knights.

Because of the nature of the way the team was constructed — an expansion draft with each NHL team “donating” a player to the Vegas cause — they have a player on the roster facing his former club almost every night.

“It makes for some fun before the games, knowing friends out there, that kind of thing,” former Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “It's been a fun roll so far. I don't see it stopping all season.”

Engelland, incidentally, is having a career year for the 19-9-2 Golden Knights, recording three goals and 11 points in 29 games.

Because his wife is from Las Vegas and he has spent his offseasons in town for years, Engelland has also become a special kind of locker room leader.

“A little bit of a tourist guide during the summer, telling guys where to live and places to eat,” Engelland said.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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