Through 11 games, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney 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.