TAMPA, Fla. -- Matt Murray will sit. Casey DeSmith will start.
Murray's healthy enough to suit up. DeSmith's still the choice.
"The benefit is that Matt gets more time," Mike Sullivan replied with a little extra emotion when asked Saturday morning to explain his choice of goaltender for the Penguins' meeting with the Lightning tonight at Amalie Arena. "The other side is that Casey has played extremely well. You look at Casey's numbers to this point, he's played 30 games and his save percentage is top 10 in the league."
This is true. DeSmith's .918 save percentage ranks 10th in the NHL.
"His last two outings," Sullivan continued, "he's had a .925 and .929 save percentage."
Also true. DeSmith did give up three goals each to the Senators and Panthers, but that came on 82 total shots.
"He's given us a chance to win. And we think both of our guys are giving us a chance to win. So we think it's the best decision for both guys at this time."
OK, he's the coach. But DeSmith's past five games -- or all of his games in 2019 -- have seen him give up 20 goals, including at least three in each start, for an .882 save percentage. Murray's past five games, which included that six-goal debacle against the Devils two weeks ago, have seen him give up 16 goals for a .902 save percentage. And one of those five games was a 33-save, 4-2 win over this same Tampa Bay team Jan. 30 at PPG Paints Arena.
DeSmith's been better overall. Murray's been better of late.
Yeah, this again.
• The Penguins’ expected lines/pairings:
Guentzel - Crosby - Rust
Pearson - Bjugstad - Kessel
Simon - McCann - Hornqvist
Blueger - Cullen - Wilson
Pettersson - Letang
Dumoulin - Johnson
Maatta - Riikola
• And for the Lightning:
Palat - Stamkos - Kucherov
Gourde - Point - Johnson
Killorn - Cirelli - Miller
Erne - Paquette - Joseph
Hedman - Girardi
McDonagh - Cernak
Coburn - Sergachev
• Matt Murray, goaltender, was a full participant in the skate and will suit up after missing one game to an upper-body injury.
• Justin Schultz, defenseman, was a full participant in the skate, but he won't play. He's considered day-to-day.
• Evgeni Malkin, center, out with an upper-body injury, participated in the skate in a red no-contact sweater and won't play. He's considered day-to-day.
• Zach Aston-Reese, winger, out with a broken left hand, participated in the skate in a red no-contact sweater and won't play. He's considered longer-term.
• The Penguins' optional skate saw Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin and Juuso Riikola exercise their options. Kris Letang, given a maintenance day from practice yesterday, was right back on the ice for this skate.
• Tristan Jarry was held out of the skate since both starting goaltenders are healthy and, by afternoon, was sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. His emergency stint lasted one game in which he backed up DeSmith.
• No lines or pairings were shown at the most recent practice or at this skate. That tends to be a sign things will stay the same as the previous game, but combinations in certain drills strongly suggested what's listed above. We'll see.
• Letang, on the challenge of facing the NHL's No. 1 team: "It's fun. It brings the best out of you. The harder the competition, the better your game. I'm looking forward to it."
• In the previous meeting, the Lightning came out seeking out hits, a somewhat striking departure from their norm, and the Penguins responded with a composed 4-2 victory, in part because they were physical, too, but much more because they kept their cool. Olli Maatta told me that'll be the mindset tonight, as well: "I don't think we're a bone-crushing team, but we'll play with pace, we'll push back in our own way. If you want to bring it ... I think that game was a good example of how we want to play if teams come out hard."
THE OTHER SIDE
• The Lightning had a full skate this morning, with the most notable development being that the NHL's leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, was bumped up to the top line alongside Steven Stamkos in Jon Cooper's transparent attempt to get him going after nine games without a goal.
• Andrei Vasilevskiy, who lost the game in Pittsburgh, will get the start in goal.
• Steven Stamkos, on fighting Malkin in the the previous meeting:
• Dan Girardi, the defenseman whose clean check hurt Malkin, told me he hadn't been aware he was the cause of Malkin's ongoing absence. He also stated unequivocally that the Lightning's plan will be the same tonight: "You have to play physical against stars, try not to give them any room. That's not just Pittsburgh. That's any team you're facing."
• Cedric Paquette, the banging fourth-line winger who kicked up more of a fuss than anyone in that game, told me: "We talked about it in the room that night in Pittsburgh. We wanted to be more physical against teams like that, that have skill and speed like they do. That's the game plan." I asked if he wondered if such an approach might not just wake up the opponent: "Yeah, sometimes, you've got to think about that. But for me, I just play the game the way I always do. If I have a chance to hit their top player, I'm going to do it."
Faceoff is 7:08 p.m. The Penguins will have tomorrow off, flying to Philadelphia for the third and final game of this trip. Chris Bradford will cover.
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MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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