Goalie recently diagnosed with concussion
Fall has seemingly taken its hold on Pittsburgh, but that didn’t keep the sun from shining a bit at PPG Paints Arena Thursday morning. Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who was diagnosed with a concussion earlier this week, took the ice by himself, before taking part in the team’s optional game day skate.
His presence was good news, but according to Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan, there is still no timetable for his return to action.
“Matt will not be available for tonight’s game,” Sullivan said of the 7 p.m. game against the Las Vegas Kights. “He’s still progressing. He skated today, obviously, with the team and his status is day to day.”
Murray met with the media following the skate, which was another good sign, but said he wouldn’t be cleared until speaking with team doctors later in the day.
“As always it’s a day to day type of thing,” he said. “I feel good, but I still have to talk to doc today though.”
The Penguins have played just two times since starting the season on Oct. 4 and that light schedule has somewhat lessened the impact of Murray’s injury. That benefit is two-fold. First, it’s allowed Murray time to convalesce and second, it’s allowed backup goaltender Casey DeSmith to get into a game much earlier than anticipated.
“I was talking to [Penguins’ goaltending coach Mike Buckley] and trying to piece together when I might get a game, two weeks from now or whatever,” DeSmith said. “It was a really light schedule. We didn’t really have a game in mind. It was just spend October and get things in order and be able to feel great about my game whenever the time comes.”
That time is now, as DeSmith will man the cage when the puck drops between the Penguins and the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night.
DeSmith had an effective preseason, though the statistics don’t speak to that fact. He went 0-3-0, with a 4.12 GAA and a .864 save percentage. His career numbers are a bit more impressive. He appeared in 14 games with the Penguins last season, going 6-4-1, with a 2.40 GAA, .921 save percentage and 1 shutout.
DeSmith has proven to be a capable backup and has posted some very impressive numbers in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Tristan Jarry was recalled from WBS on an emergency basis to serve as the team’s backup goaltender until Murray is able to return. Jarry was already in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, but couldn’t officially be brought up until a roster spot was cleared. Center Derek Grant was placed on waivers, cleared and was assigned to WBS.
Losing Murray is a tough blow, but Sullivan is confident in both healthy goaltenders.
“They’re good goalies,” Sullivan said. “We believe in these guys. They’re young guys, but their body of work last year was certainly strong. They won games for us. We believe these guys can make the type of saves for us to help us win. At times like these where we’ve got to rely on our depth, I think both Casey and Tristan have shown that they’re NHL caliber goalies.”
The concussion is Murray’s third in the NHL, which might be the most newsworthy aspect of this situation.
He suffered his first in April 2016 after a collision with then Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn and missed two games. The second came in February 2018 when he was struck in the mask by a shot from Penguins’ defenseman Olli Maatta, forcing him to miss nine games.
That history forced an interesting line of questioning – could equipment be to blame? Murray quickly shot that down.
“I’m confident that I wear the best helmet that you can get,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a fast game. It doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing on your head. Stuff happens out there, but I’m 100-percent confident that I have the best helmet out there on the market right now. So, no, that’s not the issue.”
Riikola set to make NHL debut
General Manager Jim Rutherford knew that Jusso Riikola would push for an NHL job when he signed him in May, but he couldn’t have known that it would happen so soon.
He was spectacular during training camp, earned a roster spot and when the Penguins struggled defensively during their first two games, he tool Olli Maatta’s place in the team’s top six. The 24-year-old confirmed that he’s set to make his NHL debut against the Golden Knights on Thursday.
“I don’t want to think about it too much,” Riikola said. “Everybody says just play like you play. So I’ll be ready and play like I play always.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Riikola, a left-handed shot, has played the last six seasons with KalPa in Finland’s top professional league. He seems to do a little bit of everything well and could potentially see time on the power play.
He’ll skate on a pair with Jamie Oleksiak, who’s confident that they’ll have no problems adjusting to one another. They spent some time together during the preseason and Oleksiak thinks that will help them gel.
“He’s played in some big games in his career, so I don’t think we have to overcomplicate things,” Oleksiak said. “He knows what he has to do. It’s the same game. He’s a good player, so I think communication between us two and making sure that we’re getting our calls right is key, and if he’s got any confusion on any plays, help him out. But we do a pretty good job in practice of making sure we know what we’re doing off draws and in different situations. So that’ll be a good test for us tonight.”
Riikola said that his family will be staying up late in Finland, which is seven hours ahead, to watch his debut.
“I’m pretty sure they will be watching the game. They always support me. I have a great family back home and I’m happy.”