Another Matt Murray injury following a concussion earlier this season and season-long struggles which have been a continuation of subpar play which began last season should have the Pittsburgh Penguins worried about Matt Murray. Very worried.
Yesterday, the team announced they placed Murray on IR and recalled Tristan Jarry after Murray consulted with team doctors about a lingering lower body injury. Murray will be out for what the team defined as “longer term.”
The injury is the ninth time in Murray’s career he will miss time due to an injury, his fourth lower body injury. The goaltender has missed time with three previous lower body injuries including a torn groin, a broken hand, one upper body injury, and three concussions. However, the injury aspect seems secondary to the level of play.
Murray, 24, has been struggling to stop the puck.
He won a pair of Stanley Cups before his rookie status expired. He won the Penguins starting goalie job over an established veteran starter also with a Stanley Cup ring. Muray did those things in resounding fashion. In fact, Murray stole Games 5 and 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals with the best games of his career.
The Penguins publicly anointed Murray their franchise goalie about one week after those Stanley Cup victories but things have not been the same since. Murray has only a .cumulative .908 save percentage at even strength. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, since the beginning of last season, for goalies who have played more than 40 games, only Scott Darling of Carolina, (.900) Craig Anderson of Ottawa (.905), and Martin Jones of San Jose (.908) have worse percentages.
There are extenuating circumstances, such as the slightly higher than average volume of high-danger chances to which the Penguins have subjected Murray. But the number of chances is not out of the norm. And so Murray’s play places him near the bottom of the league.
Mike Sullivan is sometimes fond of saying, “Hope is not a strategy.” Right now, the Penguins believe Murray will return to the career arc which made him one of the most sought-after prospects in hockey then a dominant big game goalie but there must be some concern, as well.
“In the big picture, is Matt our number one guy? Of course, he is,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, Wednesday night. “He’s a real good goalie and we believe in him.”
Sullivan has previously acknowledged Murray’s struggles and admitted Murray’s confidence was probably shaken.
Murray had a bump in stats before the Penguins recent 10 game slide, in which they went 1-7-2. But his save percentage has plummeted to .877 and his goals against average has ballooned to 4.08 in 11 appearances.
“It’s going to be important that we get Matt back on track,” said Sullivan. “And that’s our intent.”
The Penguins cast their lot with Murray but the big netminder is lost. And has been more down than up since being given the unquestioned number one role. A save percentage that far below .900 after American Thanksgiving is not a good sign. Especially as backup goalie Casey DeSmith sports a .923 save percentage behind the very same team.
Murray sat for three games, twice this season. The last three-game run was so that he could work with the Penguins goalie coach Mike Buckley. And now, another injury.
Fans are wondering what the Penguins have with Murray. Skepticism over the injury was rampant on social media. And surely, the Penguins must be wondering about Murray’s future, just a little, well.
Murray’s body of work stands above his peers but his high points came in the playoffs behind the best team, while in competition for playing time and perhaps before NHL shooters learned his strengths and weaknesses.
The Penguins haven’t been the same since the 2017 Stanley Cup win. Nor has Murray. And maybe everyone is wondering if Matt Murray will ever be the same. Including Matt Murray.