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Penguins Need Rebound Year From Matt Murray

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Penguins goalie Matt Murray
ITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 02: Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie Matt Murray (30) tends net during the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals on February 2, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. The Penguins defeated the Capitals 7-4. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

The Pittsburgh Penguins need the best from Matt Murray.

Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins number one goalie Murray was not consistently good. The Penguins 2017-18 season will be forever remembered as a missed opportunity, right beside 1992-93. But unlike the early ’90’s team this Penguins team has returned, stronger and deeper than their previous season. The Penguins are the same or better at every spot in the lineup, which makes Murray’s performance critical.

He must be better than last season.

Murray, 24, stumbled in his first full season as the Penguins unchallenged starting goaltender. Gone was the specter of a beloved veteran hovering over him but Murray posted the worst numbers of his three-year career. Murray’s quality save percentage (.422) dipped well below average as did his goals saved above average (-8.11), according to Hockeyreference.com. For comparison, Murray’s goals saved above average (+14.48) was well above average in 2016-17.

Make no mistake, the Penguins Keystone Cops worthy defensive zone coverage was a culprit. The Penguins handed out odd-man breaks like one of Oprah’s favorite things and Murray faced the consequences. But the Penguins less than honest coverage was not the only issue.

Murray is of the best students of the game in the Penguins locker room. But he was a culprit, too. 

Sportsnet, infamously or famously depending on your perspective, created the graphic which showed 57 percent of Murray’s allowed goals were to the glove side. When analyzing this season, his glove hand struggles don’t need to be rehashed nor does his injury history. Those issues were present when Murray hoisted a pair of Stanley Cups, too.

Last season, the opponents had too much of a look at Murray. Shooters not only had time and space to dissect Murray on the ice, but the Penguins also lacked the ability to clean the crease in front of Murray.

“It’s a much easier game when you can see the puck. That’s one of the biggest challenges in today’s game, all of the traffic teams throw at the net,” said Murray.

In addition to Jamie Oleksiak, this offseason the Penguins added defenseman Jack Johnson who is another big-body defenseman able to clear the front of the net. Murray should not be deluged with high-quality chances and traffic this season.

The Penguins also hope they added a dynamic number one defenseman, Kris Letang. Letang struggled last season after returning from neck surgery. His struggles directly put upon Murray, too.

Wednesday, Murray was authentically pleased with his preseason and camp performances, “It’s been pretty good,” he said. “Just trying to feel a little bit sharper each and every time I’m on the ice. That’s the way it’s been going.”

Murray has been stellar in preseason though the Penguins have not necessarily been challenged. In front of Murray, the Penguins steamrolled Columbus 7-3 and pancaked a watered-down Buffalo squad, 5-1. Murray is a big goalie, 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He covers a lot of the net. His athleticism has improved.

And because Murray is a student of the game, his glove side will likely improve, too. Even if he has refused to take the bait from media who have hinted at, subtly pried, and done everything but outright ask (you just don’t ask a goalie, “so, did you work on your glove hand this summer,”) about the specifics of his summer training.

The Penguins organization led by General Manager Jim Rutherford did everything they could to install a Stanley Cup-worthy team. The Penguins will need a better year from Murray. And, in this case, a rebound for Murray will be a very good thing.

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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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