Matt Murray was a key component to the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cups. That much is obvious, as he was the goaltender for most of the past two playoff runs. The same can be said about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, though, and he is now the starting goaltender for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights.
The two-goalie system served the Penguins well the past two seasons. Murray and Fleury each missed some time with injuries over that span.
This will be a completely different season for Murray without Fleury to help him get through the regular season. Murray had only played 62 games in his career before this season. Now, he will be asked to start about 62 games in one season. And if the Penguins are going to win another Stanley Cup, he might have to play another 24 or 25 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That is a huge jump in workload, and Murray hasn't proven to be durable in his short time in the NHL. Murray split time with Fleury last season and started only 47 games before he got hurt. He also started the Penguins' final 10 playoff games.
The Penguins had a safety net in Fleury, who is the best goaltender in franchise history. When Murray went down, Fleury stepped in on a full-time basis and the Penguins kept rolling along. In fact, the Penguins wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup last season without Fleury.
The Penguins don't have the luxury of Fleury now. It is 100 percent Murray's show now. He will get the bulk of the work in the regular season and then play in the playoffs without the benefit of having fresh legs. He is young so that shouldn't be an issue but it could be.
The Penguins have a backup who, like Fleury, has won a Stanley Cup: Antti Niemi. There is a chance he can play at a high enough level for long stretches if Murray gets hurt or Murray struggles. He has proven as much in the past as he has won 36 playoff games in his career, including all 22 for the Blackhawks in their Stanley Cup run of 2010.
He hasn't been consistent lately, though, and he is coming off a bad season in Dallas. That's one reason he was available for a relatively cheap price ($700,000) and why he accepted a deal to come to a place where he was the clear backup.
Niemi will likely serve his purpose as Murray's backup and will likely be fine starting 20 to 25 games. If he is called into duty for more than that kind of work and if Murray misses some of the playoffs with an injury again, that would be a bad thing. Again, maybe he can find his magic and return to form but at 33, but that doesn't seem likely.
A lot of the Penguins' fortunes ride on Murray's shoulders. The Penguins will go as only as far as Murray takes them. And if they are going to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup, he has to stay healthy and he has to prove he can win in the playoffs after playing through the grind of a long regular season.
The Penguins certainly can win their third consecutive Stanley Cup but won't if Murray isn't leading the way.