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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Number 30 by @_MAF29

So, you may have noticed there is a goalie in the Pittsburgh Penguins' crease, not named Marc-Andre Fleury, who is playing out of his mind, like Marc-Andre Fleury usually does. 

In case you're not sure who it is, let's take a history lesson. 

Matt Murray, a 3rd round draft pick by the Penguins in 2012, spent four years in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In 166 games with the Greyhounds, Murray put up a rather poor 3.53 goals against average and  a .895 save percentage. If you looked at his stats and only used his time in the OHL, you might have been warded off a bit from drafting him, as he was ranked 18 among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting in 2012...well, apparently, that didn't faze Ray Shero.

What Shero likely saw in Murray was his obvious size and NHL frame, but also his quickness and mental toughness that you still see in Murray's game today. One could even make the case that these two things define him.

After his first full season in the AHL (the 2014-15 season), Murray accomplished the following (from

- Finished the regular season with the American Hockey League's leading goals-against average
(1.58), save percentage (.941), and shutout total (12).
- Won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender.
- Won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie.
- Teamed up with Jeff Zatkoff to win the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award, presented to the goaltender(s) with at least 25 games played on the team that allow the fewest goals in the regular season. For the third straight year, WBS led the AHL in goals against – surrendering a league-low 163 for a 2.11 average.
- Selected to the 2014-15 AHL First All-Star Team.
- Named to the 2014-15 AHL All-Rookie Team.
- Established the AHL rookie shutout record.
- Set the AHL record for longest shutout streak when he kept opponents off the scoreboard for 304:11 minutes between Feb. 8 and March 8, a stretch that included four straight shutout wins.

Safe to say, it was Matt Murray's world and the AHL was simply living in it. The domination continued into his next season as through 31 games played, Murray a 2.10 goals against average, .931 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. But he only played 31 games in his 2015-16 AHL season...why?

Very unfortunate concussion issues had to be dealt with by Pittsburgh's usual starter, Marc-Andre Fleury. Even with Jeff Zatkoff, Rutherford and company felt it was Murray's time to shine. And boy, did he shine.

Through 13 NHL games played, Murray recorded a 2.00 goals against average, a .935 adjusted save percentage and a shutout against the New York Islanders. He also had a .865 save percentage from shots in high danger areas.

Since it seemed like a pretty smart thing to do, I asked InGoal Magazine's Greg Balloch (@GregBalloch on Twitter) three questions about Matt Murray.

Cassy: Since your pre-season analysis of Matt Murray (and 49 other goalie prospects, which can be found here), in what areas has he most improved?

Greg: I think the area that he has most improved has been his ability to play-read at the NHL level. That’s usually something that takes a lot more time to master, but Murray has adapted extremely quickly. That doesn’t surprise me, because he did the exact same thing during his first pro season in the AHL last year. He has a big frame, but he also uses it effectively. If you watch his feet, he takes very efficient routes. He also is great at recognizing when there is a singular threat, and aggressively comes out at them to take away extra space.

Cassy: What's the best kind of defense to suit his playing style?

Greg: If there’s an area that Matt Murray particularly struggles at, I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t noticed any kind of trend that opposing teams could key in on. The Caps may start trying to “get in his face” a bit more and fire pucks from the point, but I think that plays right into his hand. He has such a calm demeanor, so he isn’t going to be knocked off his game, and he battles for sight lines really well. He stays low, and doesn’t seem to get bothered by traffic in front. I could see Murray excelling with multiple different kinds of defensive structures in front of him.

Cassy:  If you had to compare his playing style to that of an active goalie, who'd it be?

Greg: I definitely see a lot of Devan Dubnyk in his game. He’s not quite as large, but it’s how they manage that size that really stands out. Dubnyk sort of got away from it a bit this season, but he and Murray are both big bodies that track down really well. It’s a deadly combo. Their foundations are built on short, efficient routes, which allows them to quickly set their feet and focus on tracking down on top of the puck.

You can find more of Greg's work here!

Anyhow; Ray Shero, Greg and myself definitely aren't the only ones that think highly of Matt Murray.  After Matt Murray's stellar 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 on May 2nd, 2016 (yes, Murray's win), in which he made 47 saves for a new Penguins playoff record for a victory, someone from the other side had something to say about him.

It's always nice to get praise from the bad guys, isn't it?

Even with Marc-Andre Fleury cleared, the coaches have trust in Matt Murray to continue to start for these playoffs. Could there be a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh in the near future? Possibly. But it's certainly a fantastic problem for the Penguins to have.

Thanks for reading!

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