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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Matt Murray

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The future is now. Matt Murray leads the Pittsburgh Penguins to the 2016 Stanley Cup, but if that's not enough let's take a look at his incredible season

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Age and Contract Status

Age: 22 (May 25, 1994). Has one more season under his entry level contract for 2016-17 at a cap hit of $620,000 and will be a restricted free agent if not signed before July 1, 2017..

Preseason Expectations

After his rookie season in 2014-15, Murray came in #4 on the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 where we said:

Murray's 2014-15 season was shocking for how well it went, he passed every test and expectation set for him.

Now the big question becomes: how much of it can he replicate? And how does a young player improve on being a 1st team all-star, top GAA and save % player in the league? (Not to mention setting the all-time league record for shutout minutes).

That said, even if Murray doesn't post the gaudy numbers, he could make his NHL regular season debut. And probably should, at some point, if even for a chance to get out there and get a game or two in.

Get into a game or two, I suppose you could say he did.

Season Review

The Penguins seemed to have a plan for Matt Murray , who they wanted to give AHL starting time to up until the trade deadline, then give him a call-up to the NHL. The plan got accelerated due to an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury in December (foreshadowing much?) that gave Murray his NHL debut with 4 games. His record was just 2-2 but he played well, allowing 2 goals or less on each occasion.

Fleury returned to health and Murray returned to the minors until after the trade deadline, when he was recalled and made the Pens #2 goalie in an awkward change over Jeff Zatkoff (handled very professionally by the latter). Murray played 4 NHL games in March before Fleury again suffered a concussion late in March thrusting Murray back into the starter's role.

Murray went 4-0 down the stretch, before coach Mike Sullivan played him in the last game of the season against Philly. Murray suffered a concussion himself and was out of game action for 10 days.

Fortunately, Murray was ready to return for Game 3 of Round 1 and didn't miss a beat, conceding only 1 goal in Games 3 and 4 combined, pushing the Pens to a 3-1 series lead. Murray would win his third playoff straight game in Game 5 and just like that his season continued while Henrik Lundqvist 's was over.

Round 2 would be no easier, with Murray staring down Vezina winner Braden Holtby and the Presidents trophy winning Capitals. Washington took Game 1 in overtime before Murray and the Pens rattled off 3 straight wins. Game 3 was arguably Murray's finest performance of the season, stopping 47 of 49 shots and willing Pittsburgh to hold onto a lead at home. The Pens polished off the Caps in the 6th game and Murray had sent the league's best team packing.

The Tampa series wasn't Murray's finest, as Pittsburgh dominated possession and shots, the young goalie at the other end of the night, Andrei Vasilevskiy stole the show. The series was tied 2-2 after 4, with Murray getting pulled after the 2nd period of Game 4 after conceding 4 goals in 40 minutes. The team gave Murray a night off for Game 5 (a loss) and suddenly Pittsburgh's back was to a wall, facing elimination.

Murray responded well though, winning Games 6-7 against Tampa and looking much more fresh and under control than he did early in the series. Murray kept that momentum rolling with strong outings in Games 1-2 of the SC Final, though his team did a lot of the heavy lifting by largely controlling the play against the Sharks early.

San Jose rebounded to win Game 3 in OT, but Murray (as typical) followed up that with a strong Game 4 in only giving up 1 goal in a win. Game 5 was more like Game 3, a better push from the Sharks won that game, but then Murray and the Pens responded in Game 6 with a 3-1 Cup winning game.

And, just like that, a guy who celebrated his 22nd birthday during the playoffs, with only 13 career NHL games under his belt, goes on to win 15 games in the playoffs and captures the Cup, Murray lost only 4 out of 21 starts in regulation in the spring (and only 6 overall). He had a great team in front of him, but he also saw 575 shots in those 21 games, adding up to 27.3 per night. It wasn't a simple journey.

2015-16 Stats

AHL: 20-9-1, .931% save %, 2.10 GAA, 4 shutouts

NHL: 9-2-1, .930% save %, 2.00 GAA, 1 shutouts

NHL playoffs: 15-4-2, .923% save %, 2.08 GAA, 1 shutout

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Interestingly, hockey-reference tracks a stat called quality starts. Anything over 50% is considered elite. In the playoffs Murray gave the Pens 14 quality starts in 21 outings, good for 67%. In the regular season he was 10 QS out 13 (really 12 considering he left the last game after 20 minutes).

Fancy graphs

Won't find any here, Murray's small sample renders that about useless. Which is odd since he's already accomplished so much more than 95% of the goalies in the league, but still has yet to build a resume to show just how consistent and good he can be. Of course, all that's missing is the opportunity to do so, which will change next year.

Verdict

As you can see from above, Murray was a driving force in winning the Stanley Cup in not even his first full season in the league. Can't ask for too much more than that.

Future

The biggest topic on seemingly every fan's mind is the Las Vegas expansion draft next June. That's still 11 months away. If Marc-Andre Fleury remains on the Penguins roster, he will have to be protected by virtue of his no movement clause, per league rule. This would expose Murray to the draft, which is a good indication why Fleury won't be on the Pens roster 11 months from now.

There's been a lot of consternation on how and why and when a trade will go down, but that's out of control and largely hypothetical as to assuming what conditions are.

The bottom line is the Penguins next best chance to win the Stanley Cup is in 2016-17. And their best chance to be the best in 2016-17 is to have both Fleury and Murray on the roster, in case of injury or ineffectiveness. Murray is the future, and the future is now. Pittsburgh management understands what is necessary and will have to take the steps, but given how much they like Murray worrying they will lose him for nothing (or lose him at all) is far-fetched.

Also something to keep an eye on is Murray's next contract for 2017-18. Vasilevskiy just signed a 3-year, $3.5 million dollar per year contract himself and while his skill and future is commensurate with Murray, Murray's track record to this point is better, and ought to be a lot better (compared to where Vas is now) after next season. Still, that would seem to be a good place to start.

GIFs of the Year

The skilled Nazem Kadri makes a nice move on a breakaway but Murray sticks with him and extends his legs late to deny a goal. Must be nice to be 6'4. This was Murray's 4th career NHL game back in December and he showed significant poise.

murray save kadri

Early in the Caps series Murray uses his right leg to deny Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway as well.

murray save ovi

Murray does a nice job here in a bit of a scramble to prevent a bank shot in Game 3 vs the Rangers, his first NHL playoff game.

Murray's rebound control is usually on point, but even when he directs a juicy one to a danger area, he's got the presence of mind and skill to erase the mistake like this save in Game 4 vs. the Rangers in his shutout win.

When you watch Murray you see a great combination of positioning + cool + size + reflexes

Brian Dumoulin did plenty to help Murray, so the keep returns the favor by denying T.J. Oshie in the playoffs here with the glove.

Including this one mainly impressed by Oshie being able to get a shot off while sliding on one leg, but an awkward play that's out of the usual isn't necessarily an easy one to predict how it will end. Murray does his job here.

The perception seems to be that the Penguins did ALL the heavy lifting against the Sharks and didn't have to make any tough saves. That's not the case, as evidenced here by saves like this nice one on the playoff's leading scorer Logan Couture who found time and space from a dangerous spot.

murray save couture

Or this stop on the crafty Patrick Marleau (and how in God's name is Eric Fehr (!!) the first defender back?!?!?

murraysave marleau

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Matt Murray's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations and his ability, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

(Thanks for hanging with us on all these reviews in the dog days of summer....There's only 1 more left and it's the Captain. See you on Monday)