Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Murray Has Another Star Turn in Goal Netminder Backed by Defenders Who Blocked 25 Winnipeg Shots

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Murray Has Another Star Turn in Goal Netminder Backed by Defenders Who Blocked 25 Winnipeg Shots

Article excerpt

When Matt Murray returned from a lower-body injury Dec. 15, there was no shortage of questions surrounding what might happen. The Penguins had won four of six and seven of 12 to nudge their way back into the playoff picture, but did so behind Casey DeSmith, who was gaining traction as the team's starter.

Murray, meanwhile, was at or near the bottom of the list of qualifying goaltenders when it came to goals-against average and save percentage. His confidence was seemingly shaken, to say nothing of the lower-body injury that shelved him in the first place.

How much would Murray play? Should he? Was DeSmith the starter? Some fans even felt the need to wipe the dust off the whole Marc-Andre Fleury thing.

What has happened since has truly been impressive. As the Penguins have caught fire, it has been their two-time Stanley Cup-winning netminder, their 24-year-old brick wall, who has carried the torch, most recently grounding the Winnipeg Jets, 4-0, Friday at PPG Paints Arena.

Since returning from injury, Murray is 7-0 with a 1.27 goals-against average and .962 save percentage, and he has helped the Penguins put together an eight-game winning streak, tied for the longest of coach Mike Sullivan's tenure. Murray's confidence has skyrocketed.

"He's obviously played extremely well," Sullivan said of Murray, who made 33 saves. "When you can stack a few games together like he has, and played as well as he has, it has to build his confidence. With that comes a whole different demeanor.

"Right now he exudes so much confidence. . I think he's in a whole different place mentally than he was early in the year, when it was a bit of a struggle for not just Matt but for all of us."

Despite his recent run, which is full of solid work, this might have been Murray's best game yet - and it wasn't even sexy. Because of his positioning and how he well reads the game, Murray didn't make a ton of highlight-reel saves. Aside from the first 8-10 minutes of the second period, when Winnipeg got its only power play, the Penguins did an excellent job of keeping things to the outside.

But Murray flat-out stoned an offense Friday that featured one of the NHL's premier goal-scorers in Patrik Laine, while Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are both top-15 scorers.

None of that mattered, of course, as Murray picked up his third shutout of the season and tied his personal-best winning streak, impressing his teammates.

"He's just been unbelievable, honestly," Matt Cullen said. "Coming off his injury break, man, he's been really good. It's just good to see him playing at his level. We all know the talent he has. We've seen him play at that level.

"He's the most important reason for this run we've been on."

It's impossible to argue that, although Murray - and this might be a sign he's in the zone - has shown little desire to dissect the ins and outs of his current run. …

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