PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray has played only 37 games this season. Through injury, early ineffectiveness and scheduling, the Pittsburgh Penguins starting goaltender has thus far had an underwhelming workload.
That appears to be changing.
For the second time in two weeks, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will turn to Murray in both ends of a back-to-back set.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Matt, almost daily about where he is at, how he is feeling,” Sullivan said. “When we look at his body of work to this point, his game count is still down.”
For comparison, Murray’ backup, Casey DeSmith has started 34 games this season. Murray played both ends of the Penguins back-to-back games on March 1 and 2. He lost to Buffalo in overtime after yielding a late tying-goal which deflected off bodies in front, then stoned Montreal the following night in a 5-1 win.
Murray stopped 36 of 37 shots in the win over Montreal.
“It’s not like he’s in the 50s and will end up close to 70 games played when its all said and done,” Sullivan said. “We think he’s playing extremely well right now. He feels good. He feels confident. And we think he gives us the best chance to win.”
This season, Murray is 22-11-3 with a .916 save percentage but a 2.80 goals against average. In his last 10 games however, he is 6-2-2 and has made more than 35 saves five times. Saturday night, Murray’s seven-game unbeaten streak was stopped with the Penguins loss in Columbus, though Murray was by all accounts spectacular. During his seven-game streak, he posted a 5-0-2 record and a .928 save percentage.
“He wants to be the guy. He’s a competitive kid. He knows how important games are this time of year and he wants the net,” Sullivan nodded like a coach proud of player. “He’s played extremely well and in my mind, he’s deserving of it.”
Murray, 24, is in his second full season as the Penguins unquestioned starter. After struggles and injury over the first half of the season, Murray has rebounded since Dec. 15 when he returned after a several week absence. He’s posted an 18-6-2 record since then with a 2.32 goals against average and .930 save percentage.
Murray will face the Boston Bruins at PPG Paints Arena. Boston (42-17-9) has points in 19 consecutive game and has scored goals in the final minute of regulation in each of their last two games to earn victories.
The Penguins currently lead Columbus and Montreal by two points for a playoff spot. The Penguins occupy the first wild-card spot are tied with Carolina for third place with 81 points, but Carolina has one more ROW.