The cheers and the chants have not rained down on Matt Murray this season.
The red light has flashed too often for him and the Pittsburgh Penguins, which prompted angry fans to bemoan an occasionally-slow glove hand and sometimes-lumbering movement. The goalie who backstopped a pair of Stanley Cup wins without being the unquestioned starter has gained a few detractors.
The Penguins have struggled with defensive responsibilities, this season. In fact, they are still last in five-on-five save percentage (.907), though they are quickly catching up.
Fortunately for the Penguins, Murray doesn’t hold onto the past 58 games. Or, the past 60 minutes. It’s about the next 60 minutes, and it looks like the Penguins’ brick wall in goal has returned.
It has been an emotional 2018 for Murray. He is 6-0-1 in his last seven decisions going back to the Jan. 7 six-save relief win over the Boston Bruins.
Sadly, that span also includes a 23-day absence to grieve the loss of his father. And, one week after Murray returned to the net, he faced friend and mentor Marc-Andre Fleury in Fleury’s first return to Pittsburgh.
A packed house poured love and adulation upon the visiting Fleury. By the way, Murray won the game.
Lost in the hype and overflowing admiration for Fleury was Murray, whose play steadily improved. Not coincidentally, Murray improved just as his team also found that missing spark which eluded them for the first half of the 2017-18 season.
On Sunday, Murray stopped 33 of 34 shots in St. Louis. The Blues applied heavy pressure, but Murray was the difference in the Penguins 4-1 win. Per NaturalStatTrick.com, the Penguins yielded 27 scoring chances but garnered only 12. Even Murray’s glove hand was working.
“Those (saves) are fun. It’s kind of what you play goalie for. It was a really fun game. I had a blast. It was a little weird to play at 11 a.m. Just something about the sound it makes and the feel. Throw a little windmill at ‘em, too.”
“I feel pretty good lately,” Murray said.
Pretty good may be an understatement for Murray’ past couple starts.
“I just think it’s the character of the individual. Matt has a good perspective on his opportunity in the organization and the team. He has good perspective. That’s what allows any of us to deal with challenges that are thrown our way,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
In fact, Murray has been stellar and spectacular over the past few games. He closely resembles the goaltender who slammed the door on the Nashville Predators in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Tuesday, the Ottawa Senators outshot the Penguins 25-11 through two periods. Murray was athletic, in position and unbeatable when it mattered most. The Senators had an even more significant disparity with high-danger scoring chances through 40 minutes, 13-2.
The Penguins skaters struggled to remain patient, and the Senators dominated the overall chances, 35-26, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. While the Senators dominated the flow of the game for long stretches, Murray dominated the Senators.
Without impenetrable netminding, the Penguins would have trailed. It’s much more difficult to come back against the Senators’ defensive system than it is to pull away.
In fact, Murray hasn’t lost since the infamous no-show game against Carolina, Jan. 4. Since then, Murray has won six of seven starts. His only ‘non-victory’ was a shootout loss in Dallas. Five times he has stopped more than 30 shots. He stopped 40 shots on Jan. 30 against San Jose.
As the trade deadline approaches and the Penguins continue to chase pieces and parts, one piece they don’t have to worry about is between the pipes.
After a struggle, the Murray wall is back.