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Penguins Matt Murray Isn't Back--He's Better Than Ever
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Penguins Matt Murray Isn’t Back–He’s Better Than Ever

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Matt Murray is not back. He’s even better than he ever has been for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the stats aren’t even close. Murray’s current eight-game streak is the most statistically prolific stretch of his career.

For over a year, Murray has struggled for consistent, stellar play befitting a franchise goalie. There have been more than a few Matt Hunwick sized obstacles in his way preventing him from reclaiming the form he showed winning two Stanley Cups before the expiration of his rookie status.

However, Murray’s overall play lagged even when his team didn’t. As the Penguins team defensive concept broke down or retreated last season, opponents were free to pick at Murray like vultures. For his part, Murray obliged opposing shooter’s need for net to shoot at, as well.

The franchise goaltender needed support and the team needed a few steals. Both sides were left wanting. Murray stumbled to a .907 save percentage last season and was hovering at an unacceptable .877 this season before being placed on injured reserve Thanksgiving day with a lower body injury.

On Nov. 17, after head coach Mike Sullivan was forced to pull Murray following the first period, Sullivan admitted Murray’s confidence was likely shaken, “I’m sure it is.” Sullivan also said, “We’re trying to help Matt through the process.”

A week later, Murray was on the IR. Pundits and analysts including on this page raised eyebrows about Murray’s future. National reports also suggested Penguins GM Jim Rutherford inquired about at least one veteran goaltender during the weeks leading up to putting Murray on injured reserve.

However, since returning to the net, Murray has won eight straight games. Though wins aren’t the best barometer of a goaltender, especially a netminder playing behind a team which racks up as many high scoring wins and losses as the Penguins. The biggest measure of Murray’s success since returning Dec. 15 are the stats.

In his first eights NHL starts which spanned Dec. 2015 to Mar. 2016, Murray allowed only 17 goals. Murray has had several eight-game stretches in his career in which he’s allowed 15, 16 or 17 goals but now he’s in another stratosphere with only 10 goals allowed in his last eight.

Murray’s save percentage on this run is .963 which has upped his season stopper rate to .917 and his record to 12-5-1. For those who dig into advanced stats, Murray’s GSAA (goals saved above average) is not only back in the plus territory, it’s approaching 5.0 according to Hockeyreference.com. Murray carried a -8.11 GSAA last season.

Yes, this season the Penguins have largely played much better in front of Murray. However, Murray has also paid a few old debts by stealing a couple wins for the Penguins in his last several starts. The wins over St. Louis and Florida looked like blowouts on the scoreboard but were far from the Penguins best games.

Suddenly fears and questions about Murray’s glove hand have vanished like a puck into the pillows. Tuesday night, Murray even made a scorpion save on a Florida breakaway.

Since goalie instruction is now a personalized, secretive process, Murray has typically declined to discuss what things he and Penguins goalie coach Mike Buckley have worked to improve. While Murray has not grown beyond his 6-foot-4, 178-pound frame he has certainly looked bigger in the net since his return.

Sharper technique breeds a few more saves which breeds confidence which breeds more saves and suddenly the puck is a beachball.

Ordinarily, an eight-game stretch would not be enough to erase more than a season of struggles but this is a different case. Murray is a different case as a young goalie who raced past development benchmarks and who posted extraordinary numbers over the first season and a half and dominated the playoffs.

Murray is unlikely to win the next 30 games. He’ll have a few clunkers and may even be pulled for backup Casey DeSmith, whose presence cannot be understated. DeSmith not only carried the goaltending responsibilities in the first half of the season, but he also pushed Murray upon the latter’s return.

Murray is fully healthy, his technique is sharp, his confidence is undoubtedly back, and the Penguins have a big worry removed.

 

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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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Patty Grieve

    January 10, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Love your columns but what doesnt anyone ever proof read their stuff for errors….see it in all sites….guess it doesn’t bother anyone else….

    • Dan Kingerski

      January 10, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      I do–however–I’m not the greatest proof reader. If there is a mistake–we’re always happy to catch it. They happen, especially when we’re turning out such a high volume of original, sourced content. I’ll also gently tease you on the typo in your response 🙂 They happen!

  2. Il'ja

    January 10, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    Excellent, restorative read on Matt. Great observation re: how he “looks bigger”. I had exactly the same thought, seriously wondering if he was stooping (back related) back during the rough patch. He does look huge in the net and his puck anticipation is off the charts.

    But why’d you have to publish it just before this west coast gig? I went from thinking “they’ll buzzsaw through the west” to “well, Arizona is one win for sure, maybe…?” Superstition is a hard burden to shake.

    Incidentally, I think he’s talking about the “bread” “breed” “bread” slip-up.

    • Dan Kingerski

      January 10, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      If they lose a few–blame me!
      I’ll correct the bread slipup. My eyes never saw it! Thanks!

      • Il'ja Rákoš (@vchorashniy)

        January 11, 2019 at 4:29 am

        Deal. The absence of both ZAR and Horny will be negated by Sid going All-Universe, Matt standing on his head, Geno channeling Magnitogorsk and Dad leading the 4th line to glory, but overcoming the Celebratory Article pre-key-west-coast-trip jinx – that’s all all on you!

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