Tag Archives: Matt Murray

COLUMN: We Could Learn A Lot From Matt Murray

The NHL’s Expansion Draft is now a distant memory. The moment Marc-Andre Fleury was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights, it assured in the era of Matt Murray. It has been a hard pill to swallow for some fans. It’s been really hard for some others. It’s definitely been an adjustment getting used to seeing someone taking their place between the pipes that’s not wearing a 29 sweater.

It’s not a secret that this season has been somewhat of a roller coaster for the Penguins. It’s not been until the last month or so that the team has found any kind of consistency. Murray is not exempt from that.

It’s been an up and down year for the 23 year-old netminder. On the ice for sure, but even more so off the ice. Several days ago, Murray took an indefinite leave of absence from the team to mourn the death of his father James Murray. Twenty-three is far too young to lose a parent. No one should expect Murray to be the same goaltender for a while as he processes this.

That’s not Matt Murray though. Murray’s maturity is staggering. We’ve seen it ever since he came to Pittsburgh. Through the whole goaltending controversy that went on when Fleury was here, he handled it like a true professional. And it did not affect his on-ice performance.

Murray made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night. He made 40 saves and only allowed two goals, which were both on the penalty kill. It was an emotional night for him, but when Murray is on the ice, expect a mature man to handle his business. He’s shown it time and time again that through adversity, he can stand tall. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

Few can imagine what he is going through right now. The best thing fans of the Penguins can do right now is support Murray. Fans should not be continuing to yearn for Fleury, or crying to ride with the “hot hand.” It’s Murray’s net. It will continue to be his net. The Penguins have invested in Murray. Using nostalgia to argue against Murray while he is trying to continue on after the death of this father is sickening.

Matt Murray is a mature young man; way beyond his years. Let’s try to follow in his footsteps and be mature as well. Let’s enjoy watching him be the Penguins’ franchise goaltender. Let’s cheer him when he stands on his head, and give him the same kind of support Fleury got from fans when he struggles. Cheers to you, Matt Murray. We could learn a lot from you.

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Are The Penguins Back?

Since the calendar turned to 2018, the Penguins have started to come back to life.  They have posted an 8-3 record in their 11 contests, which leaves them tied for 2nd in the division going into the all-star break.  Despite the recent run which includes the resurgence of star players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, are the Penguins really back?

We know what this team can do when it is clicking.  We have witnessed it the past 2 seasons.  And it is finally starting to happen again.

Or is it?

After the Penguins most recent 6-3 win against the Minnesota Wild, I couldn’t help but notice a tweet from Matt Gajtka formerly of DKPittsburghSports.com:

gajtka

This is a stat that very much troubled me.  Although the Penguins are winning games, I do not find it at all possible for them to continue to win games consistently as well as multiple playoff series with such a poor 5 on 5 save percentage.

With a 5 on 5 save percentage that low, I figured that the only way a team goes 8-3 is if everything else is clicking on all cylinders.  Upon further investigation, I was absolutely correct.  Since the turn of the calendar to 2018 (during the Penguins 8-3 run)…

  • The powerplay has been clicking at an absolutely ridiculous 36.4%, ranking 1st in the NHL during that stretch.
  • The penalty kill is not far behind, successfully killing 90.9% of penalties, which ranks 3rd in the NHL during that span.
  • The Penguins shooting percentage has been much better, right around 10.8%, compared to the 7.9% from the beginning of the season through December 31st.
  • The Penguins overall save percentage has actually been stellar at a .925 despite 5 on 5 save percentage being down.  Impressively, Matt Murray started only 1 of the Penguins last 11 games, so that save percentage is mainly a combination of Tristan Jarry‘s and Casey DeSmith‘s work.

Although this run has been great, are any of these statistics at all sustainable?  I would argue not so much.  Over the last 10 seasons (as well as this one…)

  • The Penguins average a shooting percentage of around 9%.  Although we all knew that 7.9% from the first part of the season would eventually rise closer to the norm, 10.8% is relatively high, and that will likely fall back to around 9% sooner or later.
  • The powerplay is not going to keep scoring at a 36.4% clip.  That is absolutely absurd.  It is so much fun to watch, but that just will not happen.  To put things in perspective, the best PP% the Penguins have put up in the past 10 seasons was 24.1% in 2012-2013.  They currently sit at 27.1% on the season.  Odds are the powerplay will get in a funk sooner or later, and if/when it does, the Penguins are in trouble.
  • Although the PK has been much better of late, they were only killing about 80% of penalties during the first part of the season, which ranked them only 18th in the NHL.  Although I would not expect the PK to drop quite that dramatically, to expect them to continue to kill off penalties at a 90.9% clip is also just unreasonable.  That will drop.

If and when all of these stats the Penguins have been putting up during the last 11 games deviate closer to the norm, the Pens will find themselves in another “win then lose then win then lose…” scenario.  Why, you ask?

Going back to Gajtka’s tweet, I decided to look more into 5 on 5 numbers, especially with the Penguins powerplay being extremely effective and exceeding expectations.

  • Throughout the entire season, the Penguins have posted a .906 save percentage 5 on 5, which is worst in the NHL.  In the past 10 seasons, it would be the Penguins worst mark in that category.  They have twice posted a .909 save percentage 5 on 5, and the next worst jumps all the way up to a .918.  Summary: a .906 save percentage 5 on 5 is bad.  Really bad.  Ask Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky what a .906 save percentage gets you in the playoffs…
  • What might be even more troubling is, despite the Penguins recent stretch, their 5 on 5 shooting percentage is also the worst in the NHL at 5.8%.  What is even more troubling is that, over the last 10 Penguin seasons, this would be their worst 5 on 5 shooting percentage by a long shot.  The 2nd worst they finished with in a full season is 7.5% in the last 10 years.  Conclusion: a 5 on 5 shooting percentage of 5.8% is bad. Really bad.

Will these numbers regress to the norm as well?  Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  But until the Penguins prove that they can score in all situations and be a much better team 5 on 5, I can’t be sold despite a nice 8-3 run in their last 11.

So, are the Penguins back?

Not quite yet…but there’s plenty of hockey left to play.

The Best and Worst of The Penguins in One Night

On Sunday night, the Penguins won a rollercoaster of a game against the Boston Bruins 6-5 in overtime. The Bruins were fresh off a 7-1 victory in Boston against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that the Penguins just can’t seem to figure out. This game had potential to be very good and very bad and we got exactly that. The best (and worst) of both worlds.

The first period is a prime example of how this game was being pulled every which way. Bruins score 1:51 into the frame because the Penguins defense continue to forget that leaving people in front of your net is a bad thing and usually results in more bad things.

Ryan Spooner gets his 4th of the year and we’re in for a treat. A couple minutes later the Penguins are cycling well down low, which was one of the exceptionally good portions of their game Sunday, and work it up to the hockey form of a stone giant in Jamie Oleksiak who nets his 3rd of the year on a shot Tuukka Rask probably should have stopped.

The Penguins get a powerplay and Phil Kessel gets a feed from Sidney Crosby and is given more than 0.001 seconds to shoot and that’s never good for the opposing team. The powerplay king scores his 18th of the year and continues to lead the league in powerplay points. Kris Letang scores to add on and the Penguins go into the first period up 3-1.

Pretty good start right? Well this is where I would describe the hockey as being bad. Very bad, very quickly.

In no way was this Tristan Jarry‘s best night. He didn’t get much help on defense as Boston scores 4 goals on 7 shots in the second period and the Penguins are handling the puck like a live hand grenade. Turnovers were handed out like candy on Halloween.

Then something that hasn’t happened virtually all year happened. The Penguins have been having trouble scoring goals when they need them. For example, when you’re being bombarded with shots and you can’t generate much offense, the best defense against that is a goal to stop the bleeding. The Penguins were awarded another powerplay and desperately needed a goal to end this atrocious period. Sure enough, Sid, to Evgeni Malkin, to the back of the net and the second period ends 5-4.

Third period starts and the Penguins seem to be buzzing. Play is really going both ways when Riley Sheahan catches a break and gets a step on Boston’s D. Another shot Rask should have stopped but they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

At this point the hockey has plateaued. Then Brad Marchand gets loose. Marchand gets slashed. Marchand gets a penalty shot. Did I mention Matt Murray is now in net? Murray stops Marchand and eventually we go to overtime.

Overtime was incredibly one sided. Penguins possessed the puck almost the entire time with Boston continually on their heels defensively. Finally Kessel busts into the zone with speed and after a few quick passes with Malkin, Geno buries it and everyone goes home happy.

This was the best I’ve seen the Penguins play and the worst I’ve seen the Penguins play. Daniel Sprong does in fact need defensive development. Shocker. I thought those scouts were lying the entire time. Crosby is returning to form. Malkin went nuts offensively but was incredibly lazy defensively. Goaltending on both sides was subpar besides Murray.

As I said, it was the best and the worst of the Penguins all in one night.

Should We Really Be Worried About Matt Murray?

There seems to be an ever-growing panic in Penguins FanLand that the Penguins made the wrong decision getting rid of Marc-Andre Fleury and keeping the younger alternative in Matt Murray. Should this be something the Penguins should actually be worried about?

The early season statistics have proven to be largely in Fleury’s favor. Fleury missed a large amount of time with another concussion but has started the year in Vegas with an 8-1-1 record where he has a 1.77 GAA and a .943 SV%.

Murray hasn’t fared as well. Murray is 14-11-1 with a 2.94 GAA and a .903 SV%.

These stats, however, are a bit skewed. The Penguins are obviously much more talented than the Vegas Golden Knights but it’s the Golden Knights who lead the Western Conference in their inaugural season. Much of that comes from the lust of the new team and the chip on their shoulder that they all play with after being castoff by their teams.

It is interesting that Mike Sullivan gave Tuesday night’s start against the Philadelphia Flyers to Tristan Jarry. Sullivan is usually someone who gives his starter the start when there isn’t a back-to-back the following day.

“I think it gives Matt an opportunity to spend time with Mike Buckley and just reset his mindset,” Sullivan said, “To get back to some of the basics of his game that we think are important and helps him be at his best. But certainly this is all just part of the process.”

Sullivan sees that Murray is struggling but as a whole, should we actually be worried about Murray?

To answer your question: No.

This is the first time Murray was the guy heading into the season and it’s the first time he’s been assigned a team’s workload. One could say he’s even gotten a rotten deal.

Murray’s first full season was on a team coming off two Stanley Cup titles. That sounds like a dog being thrown a bone but we’ve seen how lethargic this team has looked at times. Forwards not playing defense, struggling stars, you name it, Murray has had to deal with it.

Also, heading into the year, Murray’s backup was Antti Niemi. This was as big of a mess as one could’ve predicted it to be after his stint in Dallas. A few blowouts later, Murray had already been played in multiple games that were designed to give him the night off because Niemi literally couldn’t make a save.

Even in Tuesday’s start, Murray had to relieve Jarry. Jarry had been playing fine but took a stick in the blocker hand and was in obvious discomfort that forced him out of the game. Sullivan wanted to use last night to give Murray a chance to reset himself but Murray came in and made 11 saves in relief to help cap off the 5-1 victory.

Murray will be just fine. There’s a good chance his stats won’t look that phenomenal this year and there is an even better chance they won’t win the Cup or could even miss the playoffs completely. In the long run, Murray will be a-okay. And if for some strange reason Murray never finds his game again, the Penguins have a plethora of goalies to lean on. I don’t believe that’ll be a problem.

Penguins In Unchartered Goalie Waters

Three somewhat seasons now into the Matt Murray era and three years in a row, we’re dealing with a finicky injury of his. From concussions to groin pulls and everything high and low, Murray seems to end up on the injury report more than a goalie should.

We are all Matt Murray people. I mean, what’s not to love about the bright eye’d, bushy tailed young pup, from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada? He’s our guy, our fearless goalie. But for how many games in a season?

In terms of longevity, he’s got miles and miles ahead of him, though we as fans might have to come to grips that Murray just can’t remain healthy for the 82 game stretch.

For the first time in over a decade, the Penguins are in unchartered territory at the goalie position. That is of course, for at least a week. Murray is allegedly week to week, but hockey reports are so ominously vague, who really knows?

Now the Penguins actually have to worry about who’s in net. Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t the replacement.

What a thought to have.

Yes, it’s certainly true that Tristan Jarry has looked substantially promising, but that is with only a single digit number of games. Hopefully this trend continues and the Fleury-Murray fan favorite combo becomes Jarry-Murray and get’s the same amount of love.

In defense of Murray, many of his injuries are unfortunate fluke type plays, like getting crashed into the net or mistaken whack of the stick. Is this just harsh luck or common place?

When he’s here, he shows up in games, there’s no doubt about that. But I think as we move forward for this season and future season’s as well, the Penguins backup plan should be at a higher priority than other teams. Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth. Just ask the Vegas Golden Knights about their goalie adventure.

Jarry Ready To Take The Reigns

The Penguins just have a way with handling their goaltending situation and it’s been a huge reason why they’ve won Stanley Cups in consecutive years. But this time around, it feels a little weird.

The Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury‘s tenure came to a close last year despite the writing on the wall being etched a year prior. Matt Murray‘s emergence made the decision a bit easier. The always forgotten ring of Tristan Jarry‘s name seemed to get weaker and weaker with every waning moment that Murray spent winning at the NHL level. Now, persistence and patience has paid off and it’s Jarry’s turn to really showcase his talents in a bigger role at the big league level.

After becoming the Penguins second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Jarry was pegged as the eventual heir to Fleury’s crease in the NHL. Murray, drafted in 2013, shattered tons of AHL records on his way to jumping Jarry on the depth chart and derailing aspirations Jarry seemingly had all but locked up before Murray’s unforeseen tear.

Murray sustained a lower body injury, presumably something with his leg, in a 5-4 overtime win against the Flyers Monday night. He is week-to-week. TSN’s Bob McKenzie seems to think that it will only cost Murray 2-4 weeks, which isn’t the gloomiest situation for Penguins fans. Besides, are the Penguins really in that bad of shape with Jarry taking over the goaltending duties over the next couple weeks?

Jarry is 2-0-2 while sporting a 2.83 GAA and a .907 SV%. Yes, these numbers are a bit underwhelming but unless you’ve had the eye-test on Jarry, you wouldn’t know that these numbers are far from what he’s provided the Penguins.

The original plan had been to keep Jarry in the AHL to continue playing and developing as a goalie. Hence why they attempted to throw a league-minimum deal at Antti Niemi and hoped he could backstop Murray. That plan lasted all of three games.

Casey DeSmith was given the next chance. He allowed three goals, albeit in relief of a game that had already slipped away, in a 7-1 loss against Winnipeg. He was sent back down and the Penguins were out of options and had no excuse but to bring up Jarry and see what he can do.

Essentially, you’d figure the crease belongs to Murray until the Penguins don’t want him any longer. This is what made the decision to keep Jarry “developing” in the AHL a bit puzzling. He wasn’t being groomed as the Penguins eventual starter so why not give your two best options the goalie jobs in the wake of losing Fleury?

That time has come and it has even gone a step further as Jarry will be the starter for the next few weeks following the Murray injury. The Penguins have a home-and-home with Buffalo on Friday and Saturday so it’s likely Jarry and DeSmith will split those games in one way or another.

He has already had a 32 and 33-save performance this season while allowing only two goals in each of those games. Monday agaist Philly, Jarry had made tons of big saves despite allowing two goals on ten shots. He was pressed into a very tough spot in that game and responded with a game that he should be very happy with.

“I’m just trying to do my best out there,” Jarry said. “Every day I want to get better and better, and I think that’s something I’m trying to improve this year and trying to do every day.”

He has been on both Stanley Cup squads as a black ace and even got to serve as the backup in a few games over the two postseason runs due to injuries to both Murray and Fleury. He has never gotten into an actual postseason game but has had a birds-eye view of the action unfolding at ice level. That is experience that can’t be taken away.

Head coach Mike Sullivan spoke highly of Jarry saying he can win the Penguins some games while Murray recovers from injury.

“We believe he is a solid goalie,” Sullivan said. “I think the game he played against Tampa is a perfect example of what he’s capable of. Tristan is going to have to make timely saves for us game in and game out. We believe he can do that.”

If nothing else, Jarry will provide much needed stability behind Murray over the course of the season after he recovers, something that was sorely lacked before Jarry began backing up the starting goaltender. It affords the Penguins to keep assets instead of having to trade for an external backup goalie to keep the wheel turning.

COLUMN: Murray Is The Key

Through 11 games, Evgeni MalkinSidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel are tied for the team lead with 11 points a piece. Kris Letang is struggling. The Penguins are already down two defensemen. They have allowed 7 or more goals twice. Yet, the true story of this team has been the play of Matt Murray.

Of course those last two sentences don’t mix well. But, through adversity, Murray has been the Penguins’ best player. The three players who led off this column have been inconsistent. They will be the driving force of a win one game and then disappear the next. Outside of Thursday night’s win over Winnipeg, I struggle to think of a game where all three were noticeably themselves in the same contest.

I hate to use Thursday as a main point because this column encapsulates the whole year but the Penguins played their best hockey on Thursday. Starting with line one, all the way down to the third defensive pair, through their franchise goaltender, and ending with their coaching staff. It was all the best they’ve looked this season. Yes, even better than the Edmonton game.

Speaking again of that franchise goaltender, is it too early to already say he’s on the fast track to replacing Marc-Andre Fleury as the franchises best goaltender ever? Obviously, he isn’t close yet. But if he continues on this track, it won’t be long.

Tom Barasso held a lot of Penguins records. Fleury broke them. Records are made to be broken. Fleury was a former first overall pick that struggled in his first few years, albeit, behind a team that rivaled the roster of the 100-loss 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates roster. If you are a baseball fan, I will gladly give you the link to that roster and you’ll see what I am talking about. Murray was a third round pick playing behind the equivalent of Steel Curtain and Murderer’s Row.

Give me all the excuses you want about the “average” goaltender that some people actually believe is an average goaltender. Goalies like him don’t grow on goalie farms. They’re scouted with a great scouting department that finds gems like this outside of the first round. But, once they’re drafted, throw out all the scouting reports. It all becomes about execution. Murray has done nothing but execute whether he is playing behind a top-six rounded out by Trevor Daley or Zachary Trotman.

Let’s take a look at Murray’s stats since that is all anyone ever worries about: 7-0-1, 2.81 GAA, and a .912 SV%. “The goals against is really high!” “That save percentage looks like Fleury’s did every year which is awful!” I usually think a pitcher’s record in baseball is meaningless. That would make an NHL goalies just as irrelevant, right?

Listen, baseball plays 162 games a year. An ace starting pitcher who stays healthy averages about 30-32 starts a season. They pitch every five days. That is exactly 19.8% of the season assuming they make 32 starts. The pitcher has no effect on the offense unless it’s October playoff baseball and your ace is pitching a shut out and your team feeds off of it.

Hockey plays 82 games. Your franchise starting goalie should start between 60-68 games a year. Assuming your starting goalie makes 65 starts, that means 79.2% of your season hinges on your starting goalies performance. The Penguins witnessed first hand what having a mediocre back up can do to you. Goalies have a direct effect on the offense. Often times, a big save or two from your goalie inspires you to take the puck on the next rush and create a great offensive opportunity. Don’t tell me goalie records don’t matter.

Here is one for you: Matt Murray is a career 48-12-6 in the regular season. With Murray playing in the regular season, the Penguins have earned 102 out of a possible 132 points with Murray in net. That is ridiculous. But goalie records don’t matter.

Outside of the fact that he, along with head coach Mike Sullivan, has yet to lose a playoff series, he is 22-9 in the playoffs. If you add that to his overall record, Murray is 70-21-6 in his overall career.

He has managed to avoid losing in regulation yet this season. He will be a huge factor in the season considering the Penguins’ back up goalie situation is as questionable as Donald Trump being America’s president (fake news!). He is backstopping a team that has ONE player who is a + in the +/- category and it is their seventh defenseman. Their best defenseman has been a shell of his former self, although I believe he will get back to form.

Show me his “average” career numbers, I’ll show you his two Stanley Cup rings and his gorgeous girlfriend.

Murray is a winner. He wins at hockey. He wins at life. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to talk to Braden Holtby, Carey Price, and Henrik Lundqvist about how many Stanley Cups they’ve won.