Sullivan to ‘digest a little bit’ before deciding on Game 6 starter

Following his team’s overtime loss in Game 5, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t ready to evaluate Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending performance.

“I’m not going to assess his game right after the game,” said Sullivan in his postgame press conference. “It’s obviously a disheartening game we just lost. I’d rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions.”

Based on both conference finals, and the goaltending circuses that have accompanied them, is that akin to Ken Hitchcock’s ‘sleep on it’ comment before he decided to start Jake Allen? Just a thought.

After coming in to relieve Matt Murray in Game 4, Fleury started in his first game since March 31 two nights later.

“I was very excited. It’s been a while since I played,” said Fleury to reporters. “I was looking forward to it. I’m just disappointed it ended the way it did.”

“It wasn’t the best I’ve felt in a game,” he admitted. “Still though, I’ve been practicing a lot. I should’ve been better.

“Especially on that first goal. That was stupid.”

The goal he speaks of came off the stick of Alex Killorn. Fleury barely moves his right arm as the snap shot beats him above the shoulder.

Just 1:10 seconds later, Nikita Kucherov scored to tie the game at 2-2.

The Penguins took the lead again before Ryan Callahan thought he scored late in the third to tie it. Fleury’s goal post saved him. 34 seconds later, though, Kucherov potted his second goal of the game on a wraparound after Fleury kicked the rebound directly to him.

In overtime, Jason Garrison’s shot deflected off the backside of Tyler Johnson and in past Fleury; all in a matter of 53 seconds.

It’s not like Fleury had a terrible game for the Penguins.

The Lightning threw everything they had at him. Tampa had 56 total shot attempts (25 shots on goal, 22 attempt-blocked, and 9 missed shots); 11 of the 25 shots came in the third period.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper summed it up the best in his postgame presser.

“Well, this is a Stanley Cup champion. He’s been an outstanding goaltender in this league for a long, long time,” said Cooper. “The one thing I don’t think — you can’t change the way you play because another goaltender is going in. I don’t think that’s anything that can go into the mindset.

“The only thing we really knew is he hadn’t played a lot. He played one period against us, and I think it takes time for the guys to get the feel for the game. But he’s a big time goaltender, and he’s proven that
throughout his career.

“You’re not just facing the goaltender, though. You’re facing the Pittsburgh  Penguins. He’s one player on their team. You have to beat their team. It’s not just beating one guy. So whoever’s playing in net doesn’t matter to us. Somehow, no matter who’s in there, you’ve got to find a way to beat him, and we did that tonight.”

One of those Penguins not named Fleury that had a rough night was Kris Letang. Take it for what it’s worth: he was a minus-4 with 3 giveaways in 27:44 TOI. Of anyone on the team, HE has to be better, and had been until this game.

It’s difficult to not want to read into Sullivan’s non-comment on Fleury as a negative. For the first time in this playoff run, the coach is faced with his toughest goaltending choice yet – one that could potentially end his team’s season.

Will we see Matt Murray in the all important Game 6, or will he give Fleury a chance to redeem himself when history might not be on his side?