PHN Extra: Matt Murray 2017-18 Report Card
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PHN Extra: Matt Murray 2017-18 Season Report Card

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Matt Murray: Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

The Washington Capitals picked at Matt Murray’s glove hand like a sadistic dentist who finds a nerve and keeps picking and picking, until he or she is satisfied you’re in enough pain. The Pittsburgh Penguins first playoff loss in two years, like much of the 2017-18 season, was a mixed bag with ups and downs for the Penguins sophomore goalie.

Matt Murray: C

Murray never had the great run of big saves and dominant performances. The mid-season death of the young goaltender’s father certainly did not help, but on most nights Murray was good enough to give the Penguins a chance to win. He has a knack for timely saves which ups his grade to a C, instead of C-.

Murray, 23, had a statistically deficient season. His goals against average and save percentage were well below league average. In his first year as a starter, Murray was not great and did not often enough bail out the sloppy team in front of him. And the sloppy team in front of him too often put him on the clothesline and hung him out to dry.

In 49 appearances, Murray rolled with a 2.92 goals against average, which is well above the league average, 2.78. Murray ranked 35th of 51 goalies who played 25 or more games. Murray’s .906 save percentage ranked 42nd of 51 netminders, just ahead of Cam Ward and Peter Mrazek.

Statistically, it was a near terrible season for Murray.

No Penguins starting goalie posted a worse save percentage since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2009-2010 when Fleury put up a .905 mark. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, the 2009-10 Penguins were also attempting to make their third straight Stanley Cup Final appearance, and also lost in Round 2.

No Penguins starting goalie had a worse goals against average since Fleury coughed up a 3.25 average in his second season, back in 2005-06. You may remember that awful 2005-06 team was the last captained by Mario Lemieux and also had a rookie named Sidney Crosby.

Murray was also one of the worst goaltenders in the league when facing high danger scoring chances. He stopped only 77.78 percent of the good chances against, which ranked 40th of 51 goalies.

Injured? You need a lawyer. Call Joshua R. Lamm.

Technique

Murray wasn’t the steady, quiet goaltender which stoned the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps he never achieved that maximum output, this season.

As the Penguins defense gave more space, opponents had more time to pick at Murray’s biggest flaw–his glove hand. And pick they did. Per Sportsnet, Murray yielded over 50 percent of goals against Murray on the glove hand side. Murray’s five-hole was also below average, though his blocker side and low corners were above average.

The Penguins didn’t protect Murray for long stretches, and the goaltender never found his footing.

Final Grade

Murray’s statistical ranks put him among borderline NHL goalies. Murray’s first year as an unquestioned starting goaltender was not the leap forward he or the Penguins envisioned. If Murray were graded purely on the numbers, he may not receive a passing grade. However, Murray makes big saves at big times to help his team. In short, he may never be a great regular season goalie. He’s a big money goalie.

He just couldn’t find enough rhythm in the playoffs.

Murray will need to have a Connor Hellebuyck type offseason. Hellebuyck, who was one of Murray’s backups on the under-23 team in the 2016 World Cup, was terrible last season but claimed the Winnipeg Jets net this season with a stellar performance. This summer, Murray will need to improve his trapper above all else.

Murray’s glove has been suspect since the beginning (oh, the vociferous opposition this writer received for pointing that out back then). The league finally cracked the code. Now, Murray must change the combination to the safe.

The comparisons to Fleury are as inevitable as they are unfair, especially since Fleury posted a near Vezina quality season and guided his team to the Western Conference Final. Fleury is also 33-years-old, not 23. Fleury needed more than a few years to get his game in order and then had to rebuild a second time in 2014.

Murray will have those same ups and downs. 2017-18 was his first downer. The comparisons to Fleury weren’t loud this season, however, if Murray is average or below average again, second-guessing the Penguins biggest decision will become a big topic. Fortunately, for Penguins and Penguins fans, that seems unlikely.

Murray’s mental strength is elite level. There’s no reason to think that mental toughness will fail Murray this summer. Expect a much better grade next season.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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