The Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season after clinching their spot against the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night. It’s the longest streak in the NHL and it wouldn’t be possible without the play of goaltender Matt Murray. Murray has been on an absolute tear ever since his return to the lineup on December 15th against the Los Angeles Kings.
Before his return, he was below a .900 SV% for the season, but now he’s at .920 during all situations. His 5V5 save percentage this season is now up to .931, which seemed impossible at the time of his comeback but he’s managed to do it. Here’s a look at why Matt Murray being lights out has been so important to the Penguins during the stretch run.
Matt Murray Lights Out As Playoffs Near
High Play Despite Team Injuries
Pittsburgh has been decimated by a couple of monstrous injuries over the past five weeks or so. Kris Letang missed almost a month with a lower-body injury and returned for three games only to get hurt again. Evgeni Malkin has also been out for two weeks as he recovered from what’s believed to be a rib injury after a nasty crosscheck from Robert Bortuzzo. Pittsburgh has had to change the way they play a bit without both of them. And it’s resulted in Murray being tremendous despite facing a large number of shots every night. Despite injuries to key players, Murray put up impressive numbers in March.
Matt Murray finishes the month of March 8-3-3 with a .931 save % (4th best in the league) 420 saves, no other goalie made 375 or more.
— Dad Chad (@madchad412) April 1, 2019
Even better, Murray appeared in 15 games in March and only had a save percentage below .900 three times. He had a save percentage of .920 or better in 11 of the 15 games he started in. Even better, he was also .940 or better in eight of the 15 games he started in down the stretch. This is the best stretch of hockey that Murray has played since his second season in the league. And he’s frustrating teams with some big saves.
Even though Pittsburgh winded up losing this game, it could’ve been a lot worse had Murray not been sharp. These two saves are his two best of the season.
Confidence Is Back For Matt Murray
Murray admitted during this season that he had lost some confidence in himself before the injury this season. Everyone knows he wasn’t playing like himself to start the season, or even during parts of last season when he was only .911 at even strength. He also was only .907 overall when his previous seasons were all better than .920. That season definitely had to do with some injuries though, and of course, his father passing away unexpectedly. But now that that’s behind him, he’s not looking back. His lateral movement has been spectacular.
Murray's ability to A) locate this puck after it goes off the post and B) get over to deny Frk with the stick is just obscene pic.twitter.com/B0PoGbhFkV
— geoff stat boy (@G_Off817) April 5, 2019
The fact that he even got to deny Martin Frk on that second-chance opportunity is out of this world. He’s just able to kick the puck out with his stick.
With Murray’s confidence being sky high, his 5V5 high-danger save percentage has also gone up considerably. Since his comeback on December 15th, his 5V5 high-danger save percentage has been .881. That’s better than any goaltender in the league since that time. He’s bailing the team out when they give up chances in the high-danger areas and he’s keeping them in the game.
Now that the playoffs are just about here, the Penguins will be relying on him more than ever with the way he’s going. If Matt Murray can keep this up and play as he did in the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, this Pittsburgh team is going to be that much harder to take out. He’s giving them that extra gear that they need.