CRANBERRY TWP. — The NHL season reached the Christmas break, long enough to put the offseason far into the rearview mirror.
Yet goaltender Matt Murray admits it feels odd to look around the Pittsburgh Penguins’ locker room and not see Marc-Andre Fleury. Of course, Fleury was a franchise fixture for more than a dozen years after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 entry draft and going on to help the Penguins win three Stanley Cups while notching 375 regular-season wins and 44 shutouts.
“(Fleury) is a guy you can rely on, both on and off the ice,” Murray said last week. “He was invaluable to me while we played together here. He has been around so long and pretty much seen everything. I’d use him as a resource all the time. Anytime I had a question about anything, he always had an answer and good advice.
“It’s tough not having him around because he was more than just a teammate. He was also a good friend. Even now, this far into the season, is seems strange that he’s not here because he was just a big part of the Pittsburgh Penguins for so long. It’s just different.”
Fleury has helped the Vegas Golden Knights become one of the best stories in the league this season after they selected him in the expansion draft last summer. Fleury’s departure and veteran free agent Antti Niemi’s early-season flameout has left the 23-year-old Murray as the lone veteran goalie on a roster that also includes rookie backup, Tristan Jarry.
Murray won Cups in each of his first two NHL seasons. However, his third season in the NHL has mirrored that of the Penguins as it has not been such a smooth ride.
Murray on His Own
In the last game before the holiday, Murray was pulled 3:42 into the second period last Saturday night after giving three goals on 13 shots in a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins lost for the fifth time in their last seven games, dropping to 18-16-2.
Murray’s record fell to 13-10-1, equaling his total losses from the entire 2016-17 regular season when he was 32-10-4. His goals against average is 2.91 through 26 games after he posted a 2.32 mark in a combined 62 games in his first two seasons. In 32 career playoff games, his GAA is a spectacular 1.95.
The Penguins return to action Wednesday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time in six nights. Murray believes the time away should be good for both he and the team.
“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey and things aren’t going the way we want,” Murray said after Saturday’s game. “We’re not going to hang our heads, though. Adversity is always going to come at you at some point and we’re going to handle it. Adversity will make you a whole lot better. We’ll work as hard as we can each and every day to get better.”
Murray had some adversity when he sustained a lower body injury Nov. 27 in a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers and missed a little over two weeks. That left the Penguins with a pair of rookie goalies in Jarry and Casey DeSmith.
DeSmith returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL when Murray was activated from injured reserve. Jarry remains with the Penguins, though they acquired veteran goalie Michael Leighton from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade last Monday. The 36-year-old Leighton has played just seven games in the NHL in this decade and is serving as depth with the Baby Pens and a mentor to DeSmith.
Speaking of mentors, Murray chuckled when asked if he is serving as one to Jarry. Murray is just 11 months older than the 22-year-old Jarry.
“I don’t know about that,” Murray said. “I try to give myself every advantage possible, so I try to share that with Tristian and bounce ideas off him. I’ll speak my mind to him when it’s needed but I’ll also ask him stuff. It’s a good relationship.”
While it may not be a veteran-youngster relationship such as the one between Fleury and Murray, Jarry appreciates what his teammate has accomplished during his short NHL career.
“He’s been through a lot already and he’s won two Stanley Cups, which speaks for itself,” Jarry said. “He’s someone I go to for advice. Even though we’re basically the same age, he is very knowledgeable, and he’s gained a lot of experience.
“Matt and I work well as a tandem. We’re able to talk to each other and it’s something that correlates to our games and practices. We’re able to bounce things off each other, talk about different things and it helps us improve each other’s games.”