As part of the Penguins’ pre-game media material, the team bragged a little about an impressive achievement given to them by their fans in the form an almost 13-year straight sellout streak turning over another milestone.
When the puck drops [Sunday] afternoon, it will officially be Pittsburgh’s 600th-consecutive sellout at home. The sellout streak, which includes regular season and playoff games, dates all the way back to Feb. 14, 2007 – a 5-4 shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks. Through the first 599 games, a total of 10,870,298 fans have entered the gates and Pittsburgh holds a 388-170-41 record.
Unfortunately though, the fans turned on the team — notably goalie Matt Murray early in the game after Murray surrendered two goals on the first three shots he faced (both on odd-man rushes) in about the first two minutes. A jeering “Bronx cheer” was unleashed immediately after that second goal by the supposedly-partisan crowd sarcastically applauding Murray.
In a sense, it’s understandable. The fans are frustrated. They got to the arena early. Expecting a good game between two of the better teams in the league. Murray was the magnet for the criticism — as goalies often are — but the whole team deserved to hear it. They were outshot 13-3 by the Bruins the early part of the game, continuing a widely-held perception among Pens’ fans that the team not only loses but often no shows afternoon games.
That perception isn’t really a reality considering the Pens have won six of the past seven games starting at 12:30 per historian Bob Grove, not that truth and reality will alter a long-held “known” fact.
Regardless, the point being fandom is emotional. The Pens and Matt Murray were very bad to start the game, and appeared to flush any chance of winning before they even broke a sweat. The players noticed the jeering though and they were not happy about it.
Sidney Crosby on the bronx cheers for Matt Murray: "(The fans) were a little harder on our goalie than we probably would have liked. ... Hopefully they can be a little more patient with Murray. He's done a lot of great things for us, and he was great again tonight." #Penguins— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) January 19, 2020
That’s about as harsh as Sidney Crosby will ever get, a carefully chosen and thoughtful rebuke not intended to offend but still voice displeasure.
Evgeni Malkin’s quotes to The Athletic after the game lacked that buttoned-down tact and were about as emotional as the fans themselves who sarcastically jeered Murray.
“I’m not understanding our fans. Muzz won two Cups for us. You boo him — why? If you come to the arena, support our team. All of us. We try. We play so hard this year. We work so hard through injuries. We play good hockey. Maybe not last couple games, not early this game. But we try.
“I understand: You pay money for ticket, you do what you want. But it’s tough to sit on bench and hear that. I don’t like it. We hear that in Philly, not Pittsburgh.”
Malkin touches on an important aspect that clearly fan confidence in Murray is at an all-time low. And not without merit, Murray has just a .900 save% in 27 games this season, which is the worst in his career. Murray’s Stanley Cup mastery in 2016 and 2017 feels light years away in the moment when Anders Bjork blows a puck past his head to fall into a hole against a team that the Pens don’t always play well against.
However, on the other end, while the players certainly should stick up for their teammate and ought to be nonplussed by fan response, the heckles of frustrated fans shouldn’t be taken that far either. 53% of those who voted in our poll this weekend wanted Murray to start yesterday’s game. Take a broad scope of Pens’ fans — especially wise ones who participate here — and it’s not like the fanbase has fully turned on Murray.
Luckily, the story had a happy ending yesterday. Murray was able to find the inner strength needed stop the last 24 shots he saw to keep Pittsburgh in the game. The skaters found their footing with Crosby and Malkin combining to setup three goals all in pretty spectacular fashion. The fans who started the game grumbling went home happy after a monster comeback ended up in a win, like 389 games in the 600 game home sellout streak have.
The frustration that the fans let off yesterday wasn’t just about Murray, though he was the brunt and large part of it. It doesn’t do anything constructive to actually help the team they’re trying to support, but angry times call for angry measures. It’s tough to take an unemotional look at something so rooted in emotion. The fans were unhappy with the bad goaltending and sluggish start early on by the team. The team wasn’t thrilled by the response and support the home crowd gave them. Neither is necessarily wrong, even if none of it will be a valuable use of energy.