Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Grove: Matt Murray Has Turned His Season Around

Bob Grove
March 08, 2019 - 8:15 am

This is the point where some people in Pittsburgh might say: Matt Murray is back.

The Penguins’ goaltender recorded his fourth shutout of the season with 25 saves in a 3-0 home win over Columbus Thursday, pushing his record to 7-1-2 in his last 10 starts.

Truth be told, Murray has been back for almost three months.

There were a surprising number of questions about Murray’s ability to help raise Pittsburgh’s game down the stretch of a playoff battle after he mangled Jake Voracek’s shot in the final seconds of regulation at Philadelphia Feb. 23, which led to a gut-wrenching overtime loss and capped a week that started with Murray being pulled during a home loss to Calgary. He was miles away from being good in both those games.

But they were exceptions to the performances he’s been giving since returning Dec. 15 from a lower body injury – and a very inconsistent start to the season which saw him lose six consecutive decisions before the Penguins gave him time to recover from that nagging injury. Since then, among goaltenders who have played more than 15 GP, only the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.941), Dallas’ Ben Bishop (.939) and the Islanders’ Robin Lehner (.936) have a better save percentage than Murray (.931).

He’s allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his last 10 home starts. He’s 18-5-2 since that return from injury and has allowed two or fewer goals in 15 of those 25 starts. In other words, he’s been precisely what’s needed by a Pittsburgh team that too often relies too much on good goaltending to bail it out of defensive mistakes.

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The Penguins’ defensive game has been much, much better over the past 10 days, including a textbook third-period lockdown in Montreal during a 5-1 win last weekend. Thursday night, they did a nice job killing all three Columbus power plays and blocked 24 shots, their highest number in two months. But that hasn’t been the case for most of a season in which they’ve leaked in a league-leading 13 short-handed goals, turned pucks over in precarious locations with regularity and routinely given up odd-man breaks.

Although he wasn’t asked to be spectacular Thursday, Murray certainly gets a lot of credit for helping push the Penguins to within four points of first place in the Metro Division. He’s been on top of his crease, not playing too deep as he sometimes does when he’s struggling. He’s been reading plays better. 

Coach Mike Sullivan has also helped by increasing the workload for Murray, who made his season-high sixth straight start Thursday. It’s his longest such streak since he started seven straight games in the final weeks of last season. Murray is the No. 1 here, and he’s finally getting No. 1 minutes and responsibility. And he’s responding as Sullivan would have hoped.

After the Philadelphia loss, Murray took the blame for it and talked about how badly he felt he had let his teammates down. Since then, he’s allowed nine goals in five games, winning four of them. It’s the kind of reaction the best players have. They challenge themselves to be better and, yes, they hopefully get some support from teammates – which Murray has had.

Goaltenders who have helped their team to the Cup go through an emotional, psychological and physical grinder that gives them a confidence they can keep for quite some time. Murray obviously still has that in him. He’s not perfect, and he’s going to lose some games, too, down the stretch. But stepping back to look at his performance since mid-December, he’s taken what started out as a poor season and turned it into something else completely. 

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