Penguins goalie Matt Murray out with a concussion
As the regular season was getting started, Pittsburgh Penguins back-up goaltender Casey DeSmith sat down with goalie coach Mike Buckley to look at the schedule.
The team was set to play only 10 games in October, none of them falling on back-to-back days. There was a real chance DeSmith wouldn’t see his first action until the second month of the season.
“We didn’t really have a date in mind,” DeSmith said. “It was just kind of, ‘Let’s spend October and get things in order and be able to feel great about my game whenever the time comes.’
“Then the time comes Thursday.”
DeSmith’s time is coming when the Penguins host the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday because starter Matt Murray is out with a concussion for the third time in his four-year pro career.
Murray suffered the injury during Monday’s practice at PPG Paints Arena, reporting symptoms to the team afterwards. The Penguins revealed the diagnosis Tuesday morning. There is no immediate timetable for his return.
“It can happen to anybody,” DeSmith said. “Sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw, where that puck hits you and does it ring your bell just enough to shake things around. Obviously wish him the quickest recovery possible. Concussions are a scary thing. The head’s the most important thing on your body. Hopefully it’s not severe.”
Murray’s first concussion came when he was kneed in the head by Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn in the last game of the 2015-16 regular season. The second was as a result of a puck to the head during practice Feb. 26 of last season.
“It’s really hard to draw any conclusions with this stuff because I think everybody’s different,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s been my experience when dealing with concussions with different players over the years. Everybody’s different. The nature of these is different.
“Sometimes players bounce back extremely quick. Others tend to linger, and it’s hard to predict. … We’re hoping Matt will get healthy, and when he does, we know he’s a very good goalie.”
In addition to his three concussions, Murray has missed more than a game or two due to injury three other times since he became a full-time NHL player in March of 2016. Most notably, he broke his hand at the World Cup of Hockey in September of 2016 and tore his hamstring before the playoff opener in 2017.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is aware of Murray’s injury history, of course, but when constructing his team’s roster over the summer, he declined to add a veteran back-up.
It’s not hard to see why. When he picked up a veteran last year, the Antti Niemi experiment was an abject failure. On top of that, DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, who will be called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to complete the goalie tandem, have performed well in limited NHL action.
The undrafted DeSmith doesn’t have an impressive prospect pedigree, and he might have to stretch a bit to hit the 6-foot mark, but he went 6-4-1 with a .921 save percentage as the Penguins’ No. 2 last season. Jarry went 14-6-2 with a .908 save percentage.
“They’re good goalies. We believe in these guys,” Sullivan said. “They’re young guys, but their body of work last year was very strong. They won games for us. We believe these guys can make the timely saves for us to help us win.”
Murray’s injury comes as the Penguins are in the midst of devoting three consecutive days of practice to shoring up a defense that allowed 11 goals in the first two games of the season.
“It was a good week for us to work on tightening some things up,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “It happens that our goalie gets injured, but it was our goal anyway to play better defensively.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.