Coming into the game tonight, the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs had scored 33 goals in the first seven games of the season. They had won six of those seven games and five in a row. Auston Matthews had scored multiple points in EVERY game. John Tavares was productive too. It was all their fans and media pundits could do not to fall over themselves to award the Cup in October.
And then they met Matt Murray.
Led by their goalie, the Penguins were a salty bunch on Thursday night. Murray was healthy on a Tuesday night but the team went with his backup (and for good reason based on results). Still, Murray made a focused and determined effort in his first game back from a concussion last week, stopping all 38 shots he faced.
“I thought Matt was terrific,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “That’s the type of performance that we’ve grown accustomed to with Matt. I thought he was really locked in tonight. He saw the puck - he was fighting through the traffic. He was really solid.”
Also solid, right off the bat was center Evgeni Malkin. He was dominant from his first shift where he and his line mates pinned Tavares in Toronto’s end and rattled off a few shots. Malkin would score the game’s only goal with a goalie in the net, surprisingly enough for two high scoring teams, early in the first period on a power play from a bad angle.
Unlike Tuesday’s lackluster and somewhat boring game against a Vancouver team content to ice the puck a million times, tonight with Toronto was an interesting boxing match between two strong teams. Feints, counter-punches. Footwork, dancing. We saw it all in a back and forth game that saw just about everything - except for of course the scoring that everyone thought.
Credit Murray, and Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen too, they were both very good. Pittsburgh tacked on a pair of empty net goals in the form of Malkin and Kris Letang.
All in all, clearly the best effort of the year in the net by Murray. The defense surrendered shots, but that’s what is just going to happen against a high-quality opponent. The offense didn’t find a ton of reward, but luckily one was enough until goalie pulling time.
- First and foremost, our utmost thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Without them retaining $1.2 million of Phil Kessel’s salary for this year and still the next three more to go, the Penguins wouldn’t be able to be salary cap compliant. Thanks guys!
- Eyes are always on Daniel Sprong and tonight was another “meh” one. Not great for a skilled winger to have that as the takeaway.
- Kris Letang was brilliant again; no one on either team played more (25:01). No one on either team had more shots on goal (6). No one on either team had more shot attempts (10). His 2018-19 has been really solid and this is just another brick in the wall there.
- Malkin was monstrous too. It’s fitting he ends up with a 3-point night after getting a goal and assist on the empty nets. He deserved it with the way he played.
- Season-high 15:21 played for Matt Cullen with 5 shots on goal too.
- Auston Matthews was quiet as a mouse in this one. He roared like a lion in every other game this season, but his multi-point streak is over. At 7 games it was a nice run. But Mario Lemieux’s whopping 12 games in a row to start a season with 2+ points in each game is safe for another year.
- Wanna talk effort and “buy in”? Getting in lanes and blocking shots is a good indicator. The Pens has 22 total blocked shots, including 13 of their 18 skaters getting at least one. Toronto only had 5 different players block a total of 7 shots.
- For a lasting takeaway in this one though, who had Murray stopping 38/38 and shutting out what’s easily been the best offensive team in the league through the season’s first two weeks? Probably no one, but still, that has to be a confidence boost to the team. Murray’s demeanor is such, I don’t think it will actually raise his confidence - he knows he’s capable of this and expects it of himself. But at the very least it certainly must be very affirming and a good feeling to perform so well after not really playing all that great as of late.
The Pens practice tomorrow in Toronto and will be set to fly out west to Edmonton on Saturday. They’ll do so at 3-1-2 on the season and feeling pretty good as they get three games coming up next week in Western Canada.