Matt Murray has not been perfect this season.
He was not particularly good over the first two months of the season. He has at times given up some clunkers that you would like to see him stop, especially late in games over the past month. None of that can be disputed. It still seems like like when it comes to his overall play, those are the only things that draw any attention, almost as if we are waiting for him to give up a bad goal or get beat glove side so there can be some kind of a discussion as to what he is as a player and whether or not he is the long-term solution in net.
You can discuss all of that all day long if you want to.
You can also do this: You can take that discussion, crumble it up in a ball, and throw it in the trash can because Matt Murray has probably been the most underrated and underappreciated aspect of the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Since returning from injury in Mid-December he is carrying a .930 save percentage, a mark that is the fifth-best in the NHL since that point among goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games. His .936 mark at even-strength is also fifth-best in the NHL since then.
Even if you include his sub-par start to the season and look at his total season numbers, he is still among the top-12 (out of 55 goalies) in the league. He has been outstanding, and especially so over the past couple of weeks.
He’s not the reason the Penguins have only won one out of their past four games. That has more to do with the fact they have only scored five total goals in regulation, and the fact they are still giving up too many shots on goal and scoring chances. They’ve absolutely left some important points on the table recently, but without the play of their starting goalie, they may not have even been able to get the points they did.
It’s because of that level of play that he’s leading the Who Is Hot section in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Let us take a look at who joins him, and who needs to be better.
Who Is Hot
Matt Murray — Yes, he has given up some late goals. Yes, he got pulled early on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. But here are his individual save percentages in each of his past 10 games dating back to the beginning of March: .867, .973, .941, 1.000, .906, .951, .927, .627, .947, .949, .965. That is seven games with a mark of .927 or better, including six that are .940 are better. He has faced at least 32 shots in seven of those games and at least 37 in five of them. Dwell on the late goals that have tied games if you insist, but how many goals has he saved them early in games to at least allow them to get points? He’s bailing them out right now on an almost nightly basis when you consider the shot numbers he has faced and the lack of goal-scoring support he has received lately. He deserves some additional support for the way he has played.
Nick Bjugstad — I have been a little down on the Nick Bjugstad addition simply because I’m not sure about the long-term fit and he really has not always stood out since arriving. But I have really loved the way he has played this week. It has not resulted in any goals or points for him individually, but he has played some truly outstanding hockey, created chances, and his line has just looked really, really, really good. He was outstanding in Nashville on Thursday night and probably deserved a goal or two.
Kris Letang — Obviously the 10-minute misconduct In Carolina was problematic, especially since it removed him as a shootout option, but his first two games back in the lineup have been everything you expect Kris Letang to be. He has been better than 55 percent Corsi in both games, the Penguins have outscored teams 3-0 during 5-on-5 play with him on the ice, he scored a huge goal in Carolina that probably should have been the game-winning goal, and he has been dominant in his minutes. Everybody else on the blue line stepped up in his absence while he was out of the lineup, but the Penguins are a significantly better team when he is on the ice.
Who Is Not
Jared McCann — Bizarro world for me this week. While Bjugstad exceeded my expectations this week, Jared McCann has been kind of underwhelming for me. He had zero points in the four games this week and was a team-worst minus-five with some ugly possession numbers along the way. Still like him, his future, and still believe he was the key to the trade, but this was a tough week for him.
Who Is Having Some Tough Luck
Phil Kessel — Not even sure where else to put Kessel other than to create an entirely new category for him. Overall, I think he is starting to look like Phil Kessel again, especially when it comes to his willingness to shoot the puck. He had 15 shots on goal in the four games this week! He also had some great chances, including two Grade-A chances in Nashville, both of them coming at even-strength. Still, no matter what he does the puck is simply not going in the net for him. At some point one of these chances is going to go in the net, and once that happens it seems like the floodgates could open for him. He just needs to get that first one.