“The challenges with Matt this season has been the inconsistency in his game.”
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan declined to assess Murray’s technical play, Saturday but did not sugarcoat goalie Matt Murray’s struggles. Given the specialization and intricate techniques, mere mortals are no longer able to decipher a goalie’s style. Butterfly and stand-up styles are bygone simplicities replaced by terms like reverse-RVH.
Regardless of terms and styles, a goaltender has one job: Stop the puck.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, Murray has struggled with that basic tenet this season. Murray has posted just a .883 save percentage and a whopping 3.90 goals against average. After struggling through last season as well, Murray has seen extended stretches of pine-time including a pair of three-game stretches in which Casey DeSmith was the starter.
A franchise goalie like Murray, 24, has even more responsibility to stop the puck and make a few saves beyond the routine. A franchise goalie has to make a few unexpected saves.
“We trust that (goalie coach Mike Buckley) is doing the right things to sharpen his game as best he can,” said Sullivan, who later said “Goaltenders goa through this. What we’re trying to do as a coaching staff is help him through the process as best we can.”
Murray backstopped the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups before his rookie status expires. However, the big netminder has posted poor numbers since becoming the unquestioned starting goaltender, last season.
In comparison, DeSmith has excelled. In seven starts, DeSmith posted a 2.04 goals against average and an eye-popping .938 save percentage. DeSmith, 27, is the unexpected challenger for playing time but the Penguins don’t mind. The Penguins current slump which includes losses in seven of the last eight games could be even worse if not for DeSmith.
DeSmith, the undrafted free agent from New Hampshire, has stolen a couple or more points for the Penguins already this season.
The Penguins expect Murray to re-claim his net and keep it–at some point, soon. The team can ill-afford another problem as they struggle with age and a slipping identity.
“We believe in him. We trust him, we know he’s a good goalie and a proven goalie. An accomplished goalie,” Sullivan said. “We believe he’s going to be the guy who is going to help us win games. So, we’re just trying to help him through the process.”
For both the Penguins and Murray’s sake, both sides hope the process is nearing a point in which results are evident. Or more questions will mount and those can hinder that process as much as any bad game.