Every team has a difference maker. For the Penguins, that’s Matt Murray.
A lot of the talk around Pittsburgh right now is about how great Sidney Crosby has been playing, seemingly willing the Penguins to the postseason with a superhuman effort and the point totals to match. Beyond Crosby, the recent acquisitions of Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad have begun paying dividends, while the defense, in the absence of star-defender Kris Letang has been noticeably not terrible.
While flashy saves displaying incredible reflexes have made the highlight reels, Matt Murray’s consistency is what’s propelling the Penguins to their successes of late. Only Martin Jones (San Jose Sharks), Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs) have a higher win percentage for goalies that have started at least 35 games this season.
Stats Don’t Lie
Matt Murray has started the last eight games for the Penguins in a row, putting up a record of 5-1-0-2 in those contests. While the wins have been impressive, what’s even more so is the numbers he’s put up in those games. In those eight games, Murray has a save percentage of .930 and a goals against average of 2.25 while facing roughly 32 shots a night.
While Murray’s hot streak of late has been crucial to getting the Penguins on the path to locking in a playoff spot, his performance this season has placed him in the top-third of starting goaltenders around the league. With a save percentage of .917 for the season, good enough for 10th best in the league (for goalies with at least 30 starts) Matt Murray finds himself ahead of Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby, and Marc Andre Fleury. With 4 shutouts in 38 games played this season, Murray finds himself tied for 6th place in the league. This season, Murray’s .928 even strength save percentage has him in 9th place league-wide, ahead of the likes of Holtby, Bobrovsky, Fleury, Rinne, and Price.
What’s in Store for the Postseason
If Murray continues playing this way, or even comes back down to Earth a bit, the Penguins could have an opportunity to steal playoff games that eluded them last year. On pace to have a solid season of his career, Murray has already shown a considerably rebound from last year’s downward turn.
In the 2016-2017 season, which is the regular season most comparable to this year’s effort by Murray had an 2.41 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. That postseason, Murray stepped up to turn in a 1.70 goals against average, a save percentage of .937, and 3 shutouts in 10 starts on the way to the Penguins winning their fifth franchise title.
It’s impossible to know if Murray will continue to play at the level he has of recently, but based on his sample this entire season, the Penguins could have found their difference maker in net this postseason.