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Penguins Analysis

It’s Go Time: Pivotal Stretch for Matt Murray, Alex Galchenyuk

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Matt Murray and Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Murray Sidney Crosby: Photo by Michael Miller @PensRyourdaddy

It’s time for the slump to end. Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray began the season with high expectations and a chance to build on his dominant second half last season. The Penguins organization made personnel changes to reinforce the team defense concept and Murray was primed for a big year leading into contract negotiations this summer.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

The Penguins fortified their team defense and are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL.

“It’s been awesome. You see how guys are committed to blocking shots and committed to getting pucks out and pucks deep,” said goalie Tristan Jarry on Friday night. “That’s huge. You see (Tanev) had two huge blocks that were point-blank. He got down and blocked them and that’s huge. That helped us win.”

Indeed it is helping the Penguins win. Without captain and all-time great Sidney Crosby and a handful of others who are on IR, the Penguins have surged to a 22-11-4 record and third place in the Metro Division. But most of those wins are on Jarry’s stat sheet, not Murray’s.

Murray has not built on his resurgent campaign. Instead, Jarry who was trade bait this summer and became the backup goalie in part because of his lower NHL salary has become the go-to goalie. Jarry, 25, has not only taken advantage of the Penguins improved play but he has done everything but officially take the net from Murray.

Murray began the season as all hoped. He was 9-3-1 and stopped more than 90% of the shots in nine of those games. However, things began to change on Nov. 4 in Boston. Murray was pulled after 24 minutes when he allowed three goals on 11 shots. The Penguins rallied to tie the game but eventually lost in the waning seconds.

Since the Boston benching, Murray has started 10 games, been pulled once more, and has only three wins. He has posted a save percentage above .900 only twice in those 10 games, too.

A once-promising season with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is turning into a significant career challenge which could have wide-ranging impacts this summer. From less money to a lesser role, Murray has everything at stake over the next 45 games.

Because Murray has a distinguished resume and until last month was the franchise goalie, he will get more opportunities. A 10-game stretch doesn’t usually erase a larger body of work but Murray has not been consistent over the past couple of seasons, either. Murray left the door ajar.

With each passing opportunity, the phrase, “now or never” becomes increasingly possible as Jarry continues his torrid pace. Friday night, Jarry again maintained his league-leading .939 save percentage though his league-leading goals against average did slightly uptick to 1.87 after the Penguins 5-2 win over Nashville.

Murray will likely start Saturday night. He must claim one of these opportunities soon because it is decreasingly likely the net will be waiting for him if he’s not ready soon.

Alex Galchenyuk

Galcheynyuk, 25, is off to an abysmal start with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was injured after three games and has not yet found his stride. He’s been demoted to the fourth line, but injuries and a second chance placed him on the second line with Jared McCann, Friday night. And he scored his third goal of the season by crashing the net and poking a rebound into the net.

It was an ugly goal (the good kind of ugly), and much needed by Galchenyuk for several reasons.

“(Breaking out) is what I’m focused on,” Galchenyuk said Friday night. “There’s no secret I want to produce more and I’ve been going out there trying to create something. I did (Friday) but at the same time I’ve got to keep working and stick with it.”

Galchenyuk was not a highly sought commodity on the trade market in each of the last two summers. He was dealt to Arizona in somewhat of a surprise move for struggling Max Domi, who had just nine goals in the season prior to the trade. Six months ago, Arizona dealt Galchenyuk to Pittsburgh as part of the Phil Kessel trade.

In fairness, Arizona had all of the power. Kessel worked his no-trade clause to essentially limit the Penguins options to Arizona and…Arizona.

Last season, Galchenyuk had 19 goals despite missing 10 games and a horribly slow start. Beginning in mid-December, Galchenyuk went on a red-hot run for two months in which he accumulated a majority of his goals and points. You can read the film room break downs and analysis here. 

He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and unless Galchenyuk begins lighting the lamp, there will not be many callers.

Galchenyuk has struggled to find his fit with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who may eventually have a healthy roster and Galchenyuk is a prime candidate to be a healthy scratch, unless his production increases.

PHN sensed his confidence was already waning when we spoke last month. His goal Friday night must be a catalyst for a much better second half, or a significantly reduced salary from his $4.9 million is assured. To the extreme, his NHL career may halt as KHL teams could show more interest in the Milwaukee, WI born but Russian speaking forward.

It’s go-time for Galchenyuk and there may not be many more opportunities. Patric Hornqvist skated with the team on Friday morning. Sidney Crosby and Nick Bjugstad are skating and figure to return sooner than later.

The Pittsburgh Penguins roster is about to get crowded. Just like the net.

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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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