Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, in describing the recent play of goaltender Matt Murray, harkened Murray’s predecessor. It probably wasn’t Sullivan’s intention to liken Murray to Marc-Andre Fleury, but you be the judge.
Fleury is capable of making spectacular, wildly athletic plays. He was for years with the Penguins, and he still is with Vegas – where he’s tied for the NHL lead with 20 wins. But a turning point in Fleury’s career came years ago when he refined his style so it centered more on steady play and strong technique, reserving the circus-like saves for critical situations that arise in games, and. The result was a more calm-looking style rather than flailing pad saves and giant windmill glove saves.
With that in mind, check out what Sullivan said about Murray Saturday after Murray made 39 saves in a 3-0 shutout at Carolina.
“When Matt is at his best, he’s very composed and it seems like the puck just hits him,” Sullivan said. “He’s an intelligent goaltender. He reads the plays extremely well, he anticipates, he squares up and he makes difficult saves – in a lot of instances – look routine when they’re really not. He makes them look that way when he’s at his best. I thought he did that (Saturday) night.”
Murray, who at 24 is 10 years younger than Fleury, doesn’t have the reputation for making those wild-looking saves, even though he’s made his share of highlight moves to get a pad or his stick on a high-percentage shot.
Poise has been practically a middle name for Murray when he’s at his steady best, and Sullivan is seeing that quality emerge after some uneven play over the past season-plus from the two-time Stanley Cup winner.
With the win Saturday, Murray improved to 7-5-1, raised his save percentage to .900 and lowered his goals-against average to 3.40. That last stat is still a little bloated by Murray’s standard, but getting back to .900 is significant.
His save percentage was .930 as a rookie in 2015-16, .927 the next season, then dipped to .907 last season. If he can keep it on the positive side of .900, and perhaps push it back up to his earlier comfort zone, it could go a long way to stabilizing his game.
Murray got a break of nearly a month because of lower-body injury that landed him on injured reserve on Thanksgiving and a couple of games serving as Casey DeSmith’s backup upon his return. Since then, the Penguins have gone with a rotation between the two goalies.
Murray, in his three starts in the every-other arrangement since coming back, is 3-0, crescendoing with the shutout Saturday when he shared top billing with Sidney Crosby, who was dominant and set up all three goals, and Jake Guentzel, who scored twice.
“I feel pretty good,” Murray said after the game Saturday. “Just trying to get a little bit better each game. It’s tough coming back from an injury like that. I feel pretty good ever since I got back. I feel like I’ve been getting better each game, so heading in the right direction for sure.”
The Penguins’ schedule lightens up a bit coming out of the Christmas break, with seven games spaced every other night beginning with a home game Thursday against Detroit.
It’s not known whether the Penguins will continue with the rotation between Murray and DeSmith, who has been more than solid at 11-6-4, .926 and 2.42 and is providing a competitive push for Murray.
But it’s significant when Sullivan sees that Fleury-like poise re-emerging in the guy supplanted Fleury as the Penguins’ franchise goalie.