James Neal did solve goaltender Matt Murray eventually Thursday night. By then, though, Murray’s Pittsburgh Penguins teammates had staked him to an 8-0 lead in the third period of what became a 9-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
In the first period, Neal needed just a hair of a second to settle the puck in the lower right circle, and that gave Murray just enough time to lunge to his left and get his arm on Neal’s shot. Had that gone in, things might have played out differently. Perhaps the Flames might have taken more than a fly-by interest in their defensive responsibilities and made a game of it.
“(Murray) played really well,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think when you get up a bit it’s human nature to sit back a little bit, but I thought early when it was 2-, 3-0 and in the second period, he made some great saves on the power play and all the way through.”
Murray stopped 38 of 39 shots as he and the Penguins moved to 3-0 on a four-game road trip through Canada. Murray got the shutout in a 3-0 win at Toronto to kick off the trip, gave up five goals but made 41 saves in a 6-5 overtime win at Edmonton and came within two minutes of another shutout Thursday before Neal spoiled it.
“He’s been really solid this whole trip,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s been locked in, sees the puck really well.”
Murray was coming off a concussion when he dressed as Casey DeSmith’s backup for two games, the second of which seemed surprising because Murray had received medical clearance.
Whether he is flourishing after the respite, or gained a little pepper in his step after sitting longer than he might have liked, or perhaps is just hitting his stride less than a month into the season, Murray seems to be at a level at least close to the one he reached in helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. He took a step back last season.
“I feel pretty good. Just trying to get better as I go,” Murray said.
It might help that Murray has not only gotten strong goal support with the 18 goals in six games, but also has had a prime view for some slick offensive moves by his teammates.
“I feel lucky to be on this team and not have to play against these guys,” he said, and then specifically of the Calgary game, “That was pretty special to watch. That’s the kind of game we can bring when we’re playing well. We’ve got some pretty offensively talented guys in here.”
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s playing really well,” said Matt Cullen, who notched his first goal of the season and first since returning to the Penguins. “It’s fun to see him playing to his level. When he’s playing this way, I don’t think there’s anybody better. He made some saves that kept this from becoming a close game. It gives our team so much confidence when we see him playing to his level.”