Is Matt Murray setting expectations of himself too high after winning two Stanley Cups in his first two seasons in the NHL? Who knows; the small sample size only points to success.
The Pittsburgh Penguins win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday to claim Lord Stanley’s cup set off numerous storylines. Debates ignited about Sidney Crosby’s place amongst the greatest players in NHL history. Patric Hornqvist, the last pick for Nashville in the 2005 draft, scores the game-winning goal. Jake Guentzel’s performance in the playoffs has infused youth as the Penguins look to ignite a dynasty.
In the middle of it is a Thunder Bay native with just two years of experience in the legal drinking age. Despite that, he’s the first goalie to ever win the Stanley Cup-clinching game his first two seasons in the league.
Not bad for your first seasons on the world’s biggest stage.
Murray’s performances in the playoffs recently have shifted the organization’s faith in the 2012 third-round pick as their franchise netminder. This was apparent on Monday when Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-movement clause, allowing the Penguins to protect Murray in the expansion draft. In doing this, Murray had to supplant the team’s best goaltender in history not once, but twice.
With that in mind, how can Murray continue to aid Pittsburgh as they seek their third straight championship next season?
Fleury leads the franchise in wins and games played. He was a staple in net since he first entered the league in the 2003-04 season. However, an ill-timed concussion sidelined him late in the season. This meant the Penguins, finishing a 104-point campaign, had to use a 21 year-old Murray for the postseason.
Matt Murray in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was steady in net. A 20-9-1 record with a 2.10 GAA was respectable. Matt Murray in Pittsburgh during the Stanley Cup Playoffs was stellar. He saved over 92 percent of his shots and secured over 15 wins during the run.
Even with an impressive start to the postseason, his spot was still tenuous. Fleury became healthy in the Eastern Conference Finals and was available off the bench in Game Four. Murray subsequently allowed four goals to Tampa Bay, and Fleury replaced him. Fleury, however, lost Game Five, and Head Coach Mike Sullivan went back to Murray, who helped Pittsburgh overcome a 3-2 series deficit to advance to the Final.
This leap of faith for a rookie goalie, especially in favor of one of the team’s best all-time netminders, is unheard of in hockey. Sullivan, at the helm for six months, saw Murray up close in the AHL as his head coach then. He took a calculated risk where only he could predict the upside. It worked for both parties. Murray and Sullivan won the Cup and earned full-time promotions at their jobs.
While Matt Murray enjoyed a change in position in early 2016, the following year was a challenge for his health. He suffered a broken hand in the World Cup of Hockey before the season started, and then sustained a lower-body injury in late December. Fleury took over the starting job when Murray went down, and the latter played 47 games compared to 38 for the former. The injuries would continue to pile up in the postseason.
As Murray prepared to begin his title defense, he injured himself yet again. Thus, Fleury stepped up moments before Game One against Columbus. The Flower ended up saving a weakened Penguins defense and performed admirably in 15 games.
Ironically, a bad game in the Eastern Conference Finals led to another goalie change. Murray returned from his issue and subbed for Fleury after a rough first period against Ottawa. Sullivan named Murray the starter afterwards. Based on how last year played out, Murray’s leash had to be short. However, he walked away with the opportunity. He willed Pittsburgh to win Game Seven over the Senators and outlasted Nashville in six games.
Matt Murray in the Future
With Fleury’s recent contract developments, it is looking more likely Vegas will snag him in the upcoming expansion draft. This means Murray is the long-term solution for the Penguins. He’s proved his worth in the postseason. In extended time during the regular season, he posted a 2.41 GAA with 26 quality starts. His numbers are solid, but there’s a key factor: health.
Three injuries last season is a cause for concern with a franchise goalie. Including a concussion before the 2016 playoffs, Murray has had four injuries in that span. Pittsburgh has had the benefit of having a starting-caliber goalie to fill in for an injured starter, but if Fleury leaves, that’s no longer the case.
Sullivan has faith in Matt Murray. The two have the potential to be a staple in Pittsburgh for years to come. When he’s on the ice, Murray is a solid weapon. If he can stay on the ice, the Penguins are the typical juggernaut. Penguins fans will be disappointed to hear he probably won’t win a Stanley Cup every year. However, he’s off to a pretty good start in his NHL career.
Feature Image courtesy of Yahoo Sports
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