Player: Matt Murray
Born: May 25, 1994 (25 years old)
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 178 pounds
Birthplace: Thunder Bay, Ontario (Canada)
Draft: 2012 PIT, 3rd Round (83rd Overall)
2018-19 Stats: 50 GP/29-14-6/2.69 GAA/.919 SV%/4 SO
Contract status: Murray has one year remaining on his contract that carries a $3.75 million cap hit. This is from the three extension he signed in October 2016 after winning the first of his two Stanley Cups. If Murray does not sign a new extension before July 1, 2020 he will become a restricted free agent. All signs point to a Murray extension being a top priority for the Penguins this summer.
The past: An up and down 2017-18 season saw Murray end with a B- in our annual player ratings. Our readers more or less agreed with the assessment as well.
Regular Season History
For the first time in his career, Matt Murray eclipsed the 50 games played mark in a season. That wasn’t so much an issue in 2016 and 2017 when Marc-Andre Fleury was around, but now that Murray is the number one guy the missed time is much more impactful for the Penguins.
Murray’s injury history is troubling, but most of his missed game action this season came during a 13 stretch in November and December when he was on injured reserve with a lower body injury. If you add those 13 games back in and assume he plays in 11, then Murray’s games played jumps to a much more reasonable 61 on the season.
Outside of that month long stretch, Murray remained mostly healthy and available for the Penguins this season. Most of Murray’s core stats rebounded from a year ago but his overall season numbers were still dented by a weak start in October and November where he posted a .893 and .850 save percentage respectively. Even with the rough start, his .919 save percentage was good for 10th in the league.
Murray can surely play better than he did against the Islanders and he knows that, but when your offense only gives you six goals in four games there is only so much a goalie can do. His numbers the past two playoffs are a far cry from where they were during the Cup runs in 2016 and 2017, but his play overall against the Islanders was much better than what he showed against the Flyers and Capitals last year even if his numbers are relatively the same.
Fancy Stats and Charts
All charts via @ChartingHockey
Murray surrendered 129 goals this season which was nearly bang on his expected goals (xG) total of 130. He was extremely volatile at the start of the season ranging anywhere from very bad to very good, but he leveled out in the second half of the season and was even regularly above average down the stretch.
For the season, Murray sits ever so slightly on the right side of this chart, performing slightly better than expected for starting goaltenders. His closest comparables are Carey Price, Philipp Grubauer, and Corey Crawford, all good goalies in their own right. A better start to the season and Murray is likely higher up this chart.
Typically you would hope to see your top goaltender a little more to the right on this chart, meaning he is producing better results, it shows that it could always be worse for Murray, who sits in a much better place than some higher priced alternatives.
This was explained in the Casey DeSmith review and can be applied here to Murray as well. For this season, Murray registered a 20 Goals Above Replacement value, which works out to roughly 2.5 Wins Above Replacement. That sits right in the ballpark of guys like Fleury, Braden Holtby, and Sergei Bobrovsky, while being slightly better than a player like Tuukka Rask.
Like we discussed above, a rough start to the season for Murray put a dent in his overall numbers even though he did rebound rather well once he returned from a lower-body injury in December. Once the playoff race heated up and it looked like the Penguins were going to be in a dog fight to qualify, Mike Sullivan did not hesitate to roll with Murray and he made the coach look good with a stellar month of March that helped push the Penguins to a 13 straight Stanley Cup playoff berth. Over the team’s last 19 games from March 1st to April 6th, Murray started in 18, posting a 10-4-4 record with a .931 save percentage.
This save came two nights after Murray’s 50 save performance against the Flyers. It’s mid-February and the Penguins know they will be in a dog fight for a playoff spot so every point matters and you need two against bad teams like the Oilers. If Connor McDavid scores here the entire game changes.
Watch this highlight and just pretend the end of this game never happened. This was a goalie duel between Murray and Carter Hart all night long, with each answering the other. The game is scoreless at this point so every save was crucial to keep it that way.
This pair of saves by Murray came within about 15 seconds of one another in an early March contest with the Blue Jackets. The Penguins lost the game in the end, but this was just a microcosm of how good Murray was over the course of that month when the Penguins needed him most.
Not from his time with the Penguins this season, but Murray had a very good showing at the IIHF World Championships in May. His biggest highlight came on his birthday when he posted a 40 save performance in the semifinals to send Canada to the gold medal game.
Game of the Season
Coming off a brief two game absence recovering from an upper-body injury, Murray returned to the Penguins lineup in Philadelphia and put the Flyers on ice with a career-high 50 save performance in a 4-1 win.
You might remember this as the night Evgeni Malkin took a swing at Michael Raffl and gets himself thrown out of the game. The Flyers had dominated the Penguins for the entire night but the Pens led by three and Murray was working on a shutout. Malkin was ejected with five minutes left and assessed a major penalty. The Flyers scored early in the man advantage but Murray let nothing else by him, coming up with big stops on Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek late in the game.
He turns his past playoff performances into consistent regular season play and he cements himself as one of the best goalies in the league and is firmly in the Vezina Trophy conversation next season.
We know Murray has the pedigree to be an elite goaltender in the NHL and maybe if he can avoid injuries he can return to the level that helped lead the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups.
He’s probably going to take a knock at some point that sees him miss some time, you just hope he can avoid something more serious like he has dealt with in the past. Murray seems to be the kind of player who thrives on playing every night like we saw in March, but that rate is not sustainable for a full 82 games season.
With a solid backup in Casey DeSmith, maybe the Penguins try to manage Murray’s workload while still giving him the bulk of the playing time. All three Vezina finalist this year played under 55 games and there seems to be traction behind of the idea of cutting a goalie’s workload. Do the Penguins explore going this route with Murray and hope a more regulated workload leads to better results and better health?
Maybe Murray is just one of those guys who performs better when he’s seeing game action on a more regular basis than splitting time with his backup. Either way, he’s going to get the bulk of the starts in goal and all he can hope for is he avoids that nasty injury bug.
Worst Case 2019-20
Another long term injury forces Murray out for a month or more, but this time he doesn’t play his best hockey after returning. Murray is critical to the Penguins long term plans and a decline in his play will be felt throughout the team and in the standings.
Matt Murray just cannot seem to avoid that one major injury every season that puts him out for an extended period of time. He went through it again this season and it cost him a month, but on the bright side he did manage to get through the entire season without a concussion and given his history that is significant.
He didn’t start the season the way he wanted to but his bounce back after the injury was a positive sign. Without his play in March this team likely doesn’t make the playoffs at all. We all now this is Sidney Crosby’s team but Matt Murray is just as crucial to their success as Crosby. With the talent around him, even average goaltending from Murray is enough to make the Penguins scary. If he can improve on that he can make the Penguins downright frightening.
It’s no secret that Murray is the Penguins long term plan in goal and they haven’t exactly been shy about it. They chose him over Marc-Andre Fleury for a reason and he’s here to stay. Expect a new contract extension for Murray to come along sometime this summer.
Grade Matt Murray’s 2018-19 season.
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