Tag Archives: Matt Murray

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.

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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.

The Murray Glove Hand Dilemma

It seems to be a common theme nowadays among Penguins fans to think Matt Murray has a below average glove hand.

This statement may have been true during the 2016 playoff run, but after last season as well as this current season, that statement is outdated. That may seem like a bold statement to make, but I will try and shine some light on why I personally think Murray’s glove hand is not as bad as people make it seem. I am going to back this up with some little-known stats.

During the 2016-17 regular season, Murray played 49 games and let up 111 goals, and 38 of those were on his glove side. This means that 34.2% of the goals on Murray were on his glove side. Now let’s compare these numbers to another popular Pittsburgh goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury played 38 games during the regular season, and in those games he was scored on 107 times, and just like Murray he let in 38 goals on his glove side. This equates to 35.5% of the goals scored on Fleury went in on his glove side, a very close % to Murray.  However, it was very rare to hear any Pittsburgh fan criticize Fleury of his glove hand which, when you look at it, was statistically just barely worse than Murray’s.  

Now that may not provide the clearest picture of my point, as their percentages are just one percent apart.  So let’s look at Vezina nominee, Braden Holtby.

Holtby allowed 128 goals this past year, 57 of which were on his glove side.  This calculates to 44.5% of the goals that went in on Holtby being scored on his glove side.  That is a whole 10% higher than Murray, and yet again, you rarely hear anyone mention Holtby having a weak glove hand.

Some more stats won’t hurt.

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers had 42 goals of his 147 against scored on his glove side. This means 28.5% of the goals he let in were on his glove side. So this number here is one that is lower than Murray’s.

Lastly, we will compare Murray’s stats to Pekka Rinne.  Rinne allowed 144 goals against last season. 46 of them were on his glove side.  This shows that Rinne let in 32% of his goals in on the glove side, which is about 2% lower than Murray.

In conclusion, based off of the statistics, Murray’s glove hand is not horrible, nor is it out of this world.  It is simply on par with most of the NHL’s elite goaltenders.  In hindsight, Murray’s average glove hand is not that much of a detriment to his overall game, as most of his other attributes are far better than other goalies.

Don’t Be So “Antti” Niemi…Yet

This offseason, the Penguins signed a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in Antti Niemi for $700,000 after being bought out by the Dallas Stars.  Although the Penguins are high on goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry, they wanted him to have another year of developing in Wilkes-Barre before calling him up to the NHL to backup Matt Murray.  Thus, Jim Rutherford needed to find a veteran backup for at least 1 year to backup Murray while waiting for Jarry to develop, and so he decided to take a risk on Niemi.

Well, so far, not so good.

In 2 games, Niemi is 0-2 with a 7.94 GAA and a .809 save percentage.  He was pulled in his first start after giving up 4 goals in the first period against the Blackhawks, which turned into that ugly 10-1 loss early in the season.  He played decent in his 2nd start, but still surrendered 5 goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road in a 5-4 loss.

Most Penguins fans were all over Antti Niemi after his poor performance in Chicago, and even more-so after his loss against the Lightning.  Well, criticize him all you want, but I am here to tell you to not be so “Antti” Niemi…at least not yet.

First of all, let me be clear: I do not believe that Niemi is some world class/God-send goaltender.  He is a backup at this point in his career.  That said, I think we all need to breathe and give this guy a chance.  Hear me out…

Niemi has started 2 games this year, and both of those games were the 2nd of a set of back to back games.  Although these games are not impossible to win, guys are more fatigued and more tired than they usually would be because of the game the night before.  Of course, NHL players are in great shape, but I’m sure that none of them like playing in the 2nd of a back to back scenario, especially when having to travel the night before.

Speaking of traveling, both of these games were on the road.  Rarely will a teams’ road record be as good as their home record, and playing in these road games in a back to back scenario makes it all the more difficult.

Oh, and I should probably mention that the opponents the Penguins played were both among the favorites to come out of the East and West this year in Tampa Bay and Chicago.  And, let’s be honest, the game in Chicago was…well…rough to say the least.  Even Murray, who has been spectacular since the Chicago blowout, surrendered 6 goals in that game.

So what, should we be calling for a Matt Murray trade, too?  Of course not.

Fortunately, over the past 2 years, the Penguins were blessed with having two #1 goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury and Murray.  If one of them went down, we knew that the other could be great.  Or, in the situation of back to back games, the Penguins always had a chance since both Murray and Fleury had a chance to steal a game even if the Penguins didn’t have their “A” game.

Admit it, we’ve been spoiled.

Niemi will never be Fleury in any way.  Period.  And even though you may know this in your mind, I know your unconscious mind wanted to see Niemi go 13-6-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage this season.  Well it’s time to enter reality: Niemi just is not that guy.

Niemi does have the pedigree and the potential, but keep your expectations at more of a Jeff Zatkoff level.  Niemi is a backup.  That’s it.  Of course he is going to win a couple of games here and there, and hopefully he can end the season with a winning record, but he won’t be anything spectacular.  Can he potentially steal a game here and there?  Sure.  He does have his name etched on the Stanley Cup after all.  The guy knows how to win. That said, he’s not a number 1 goaltender any more.

So say the Penguins were to theoretically dump Antti Niemi…who is even available for the Penguins to sign to replace him?  Your answer: nobody better than Niemi, especially given that Niemi is only making $700,000.

So yeah, Niemi hasn’t been spectacular thus far.  But it has only been 2 games, both on the road, both against very good opponents, and probably 2 of the poorest defensive games that the Penguins have played so far this year.  He is a veteran presence that, despite seeing his stats decline over the past couple of seasons, has the potential playing behind one of the best teams in the NHL.

Will Niemi be the Penguins’ backup by seasons end?  Maybe, maybe not, but I would give him at least a couple more games before drawing any conclusions, so don’t be so “Antti” Niemi…yet.

Fleury Left Bigger Void Than Most Thought

Marc-Andre Fleury and his Golden Knights are the first expansion team in ANY of the 4 big sports leagues to start off their inaugural season 3-0 since the San Diego Padres did in 1969. A big part of the reason why they are 3-0 and not 0-3 is Fleury’s stellar play.

It was a big deal for the Penguins’ Organization and their fan-base when Fleury was inevitably taken by his current team in the expansion draft. Fleury no longer fit in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think many realized how big of a deal his departure really was until this week.

The thing that makes Fleury so good is how he can single-handedly win games for a team. He can bail his team out by holding off the opposing team long enough for them to get their act together and score, something that he did for the Penguins quite a lot last year.

When Matt Murray was out due to injury or simply taking a day off, Fluery could come in and be the best back up in the game. He could play as well or better than most teams starting goalie. That tandem was easily one of the best goalie pairs in the league and certainly played a huge part in the Penguin’s Back-to-Back Cups.

But now he’s gone. And in his place, the Penguins signed Antti Niemi, a goalie who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in his sophomore year, but has been getting increasingly worse each year.

Last year, he had his worst season yet with an .892 save percentage, contributing to the Dallas Stars’ atrocious goalie situation. In the off-season, he joined the island of misfit toys on a cheap, $700,000 one-year deal, to prove he can bounce back and be a good NHL goaltender.

That hasn’t been going so well from him. You only get once chance at a first impression, and boy does Niemi wish that wasn’t true.

On October 5th, he started his first game as a Penguin in Chicago, 10 minutes and 4 goals later he was pulled in favor of Murray, who allowed another 6 goals over the course of the game.

The whole Penguin team didn’t play well, but Niemi certainly wasn’t there to bail them out.

Now, we obviously didn’t expect him to play up to Fleury’s standards, and Niemi could still step up and prove to be a solid backup goaltender throughout the season. But it really shows how much the Penguins really rely on their goaltenders to keep them in games, something they got in the habit of when they had 2 above average goaltenders, something they need to snap out of real quick. I don’t miss the Murray vs Fleury debate, but Niemi’s first game as a Penguins certainly does make me miss Fleury that much more.

COLUMN: This Season Feels Different

Somehow, we are less than a month away from the puck being dropped on the 2017-18′ season. I guess that’s what happens when you go to the Stanley Cup Finals and don’t spend two extra months watching other teams play like another Pennsylvania team does.

Every season has its headlines and it’s new waves of prospects being ready to embark upon their NHL rosters. Players depart from teams and head to greener pastures when their contracts expire. Some chase the shiny silver heavy trophy-like specimen that many call “The Stanley Cup”.

For the Penguins, the beginning of the 2015-16′ season felt like a new era. The Penguins had acquired Phil Kessel on July 1st in a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Penguins fans spent the better parts of July, August, and September painfully awaiting the chance to see number 81 fly around the ice in a Penguins sweater. They spent the early part of the season spiraling and it seemed by mid-December they were out of it. Mike Sullivan was hired and the rest is history. The WBS guys began filling roster spots. Fun, exciting, rejuvenating times for hockey in Pittsburgh.

Last season began with no doubts. The Penguins and fans felt invincible. With practically the same roster and one of the best coaches in the league currently, it seemed the Penguins were easily going to breeze through the league and repeat. Then Kris Letang had neck surgery and missed the rest of the season. There was goalie controversy. The Washington Capitals were the league’s best team. It seemed nothing could go the Penguins way…until it did. The Penguins repeated.

So bring on 2017-18′.

They’ve got Matt Murray as their new permanent starter. They’ve got Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese just a call away. They made some adjustments to a roster that couldn’t possibly maintain this playing style for a third straight potential run at a Stanley Cup. Letang is back and cleared to participate in hockey again. They don’t even have a third-line center. And, yet, this still feels like the first time…even though it doesn’t.

I sit here and think about how it’s even fathomable to think that Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves, and Antti Niemi are supposed to replace guys like Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino. Then I counter that with the fact that Letang, one of the biggest reasons the Penguins won the Cup the first time around, is back and refreshed and ready to anchor the Penguins’ defense even after they won the Cup without him last season.

I sit and think how Fleury, a Pittsburgh idol for years, has transitioned into life on the West Coast with the Vegas Golden Knights. Then I counter that with how Murray might be just that much better, even without the shining-bright personality. He’ll let his play speak and not his smile.

I ponder how the Penguins are going to get by without a legitimate third line center to start the season. Then I remember that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby played some of the best hockey we’ve ever seen from them simultaneously over the past two seasons and instantly forget the third line center “problem”.

Let’s face it. There aren’t many holes with this team. Yes, the third line center issue might worry you. But, when has Jim Rutherford ever given you reason to doubt that he will fill that void?

The Penguins can get by early in the year with a rotation of their bottom two centers, whomever they choose to fill such roles. The market is too high right now to buy. The Penguins will hold a playoff spot all year. They can buy when teams are really trying to unload players mid-season and at the trade deadline.

There is a reason this season feels a bit different. In recent years, you couldn’t say that you guaranteed the Penguins would make the Finals, let alone win them. I still don’t think that’s the case. The roster does look a bit weaker.

Just remember, Sullivan has yet to lose a playoff series. He’s a smart coach who knows how to use his players. If you don’t produce, you don’t play. He’ll find a role player that does exactly what he wants.

The biggest reason this season feels different, though, is because of the business-like approach they’re going to have.

There are some players on this current team who have things to prove. That’s usually when the best comes out of them.

Carl Hagelin had one of the more disappointing seasons on the team last year. He scored the Cup clinching goal, but it was only one of two points he scored in the entire playoffs.

Conor Sheary, a 20-goal scorer last season, signed a three-year extension with the team at $3 million per year. Many people scrutinized this move as he’s been benched at some point in the playoffs the past two seasons.

Brian Dumoulin, also signed to a long-term extension this offseason, wants to prove that he isn’t just good when Letang is his defense partner and that he’s worth the money he’ll be getting paid.

Justin Schultz, the final long-term contract signee, wants to show he wasn’t a one-hit wonder and has truthfully resurrected what Edmonton almost ruined.

Derrick Pouliot, a former first round draft choice, has yet to put together a solid resume in the NHL. He plays fantastic in the AHL and looks like a dumpster fire when given NHL minutes.

Reaves, a perceived tough-guy, wants to disprove that notion and show that he was worth the first round pick and Oskar Sundqvist that was given to St. Louis in exchange for his services.

Murray wants to prove that he can handle a season’s worth of workload. Many have said that his success is only because he’s kept fresh for when it really counts.

Crosby and Malkin want to assure their legacy and prove they’re the best duo in the modern-day NHL.

The list could go on and on.

When there is competition or a chance to prove yourself to people, it usually brings out the best in that individual or team. I don’t think there is a scary team in the Eastern Conference than Pittsburgh. The Western Conference always has a few teams.

You may say there isn’t much left to prove when you’ve won two straight championships and the target is on your back. Ask these Penguins if there isn’t something to prove.

Incase you are unaware, the Flyers will no longer have a team on the Stanley Cup if they don’t win this upcoming season as a new ring will need to be placed on the Cup following the year. There would be no better way to knock the Flyers off of the Stanley Cup than to put the Pittsburgh Penguins’ name on there for a third straight time.

Damn, it’s been a long time since 1975.