Penguins goalie Matt Murray standing tall since return
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn't minimize Matt Murray's gifts in goal.
The necessary quick reflexes and requisite willingness to stand tall in the face of pucks repeatedly flying at him set him apart from most athletes.
But there's plenty more to Murray's recent surge of success than athletic ability, Sullivan said.
"He's a real good person," he said.
Murray, 23, suffered a great loss Jan. 16 when his father, Jim, died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Murray was gone from the team previously to be with his father before his death, and he subsequently missed six days to grieve with his family.
Since his return to the Penguins, he has been a rock in goal, recording a 4-0-1 record, with a 2.76 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. That's a small sample size, but it's an improvement on his performance prior to leaving the team (15-12-1/2.93/.902).
Sullivan said Murray's character more than anything he does between the pipes has allowed him to emerge on the other side of a family tragedy and attack the rigors of the season.
"That's what allows any of us to deal with any of the challenges that life throws our way," Sullivan said, "whether it be within hockey itself or outside of the game. Matt's had a little bit of both this year. We think he's handled it extremely well. That's a credit to him as a person. Not so much as a player, moreso the individual.
"He has a good perspective on his situation, on the opportunity he has here with this team. I don't think he takes anything for granted. He works extremely hard at what he does."
Murray acknowledged Monday his "difficult situation," but he said he used practice time to help him regain the necessary mindset.
"There's not one point where you all of a sudden feel great," he said. "That's not how it works.
"It's more mental, for sure. Just like every other thing in life."
Both parts of his game — the mental and physical aspects — came together Sunday in a 4-1 victory in St. Louis. The Blues have the fourth-most points (71) in the Western Conference, but Murray responded by turning back 28 of their shots on goal.
One save in particular made him smile.
"With the Penguins nursing a 2-1 lead in the third period, the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko collected a puck in the right faceoff circle after it came out from behind the net. With a clean look at Murray, Tarasenko, who already has 23 goals this season, unleashed a line drive that Murray caught out of the air.
Murray said he's not sure what makes glove saves so special. He just knows they are.
"Something about the sound it makes, the feel," he said.
After making the catch, Murray waved his arm in a windmill motion above his head while clutching the puck in his glove.
"Just for fun," he said.
During the telecast, NBC play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick made note of Murray's recent solid play.
"He's got in a zone," Emrick said, "which goalies often speak about."
Murray was happy to make the save, but also pleased he played a part in the game where Sidney Crosby scored his 400th career goal. Meanwhile, Murray helped the Penguins win a tight-checking contest.
"This time of year," he said, "I think it's important to learn how to win games like that, close right to the end."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.