Penguins Prediction Rewind: Matt Murray returned to upper echelon of NHL goalies | TribLIVE.com
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Jonathan Bombulie

Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.

THE QUESTION

Will Matt Murray’s save percentage be better or worse than last season’s .907?

A. A little better (.908 to .920)

B. A lot better (.920 or better)

C. The same or worse (.907 or worse)

THE PREDICTION

B. A lot better (.920 or better)

THE RIGHT ANSWER

A. A little better (.908 to .920)

THE RATIONALE

• It was hard to imagine Murray having a more trying season than he did in 2017-18. He suffered a lower-body injury in November, dealt with the death of his father in January and suffered a concussion in February. For a goalie who never had a save percentage worse than .920 previously in his pro career, it looked like rock bottom.

• Perception of Murray’s game was tainted by recency bias at this time last summer. He was just coming off a .905 save percentage in a six-game loss to Washington. Predicting he would soon return to the upper echelon of goalies was not exactly en vogue.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

• This prediction was extraordinarily close to being correct. If Murray had made one more save – just one – his save percentage for the season would have rounded up to .920. Instead, it was .919, so technically, the prediction was wrong.

• Murray started off the season poorly, going 4-5-1 with a .877 save percentage until he was shut down with a lower body injury on Thanksgiving. After he came back in the middle of December, he was one of the top 10 goalies in the league, going 25-9-5 with a .930 save percentage.

THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC

• When it comes to predicting performance, a variable that is difficult to account for is health. Given Murray’s extensive injury history, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll be limited physically for one reason or another at some point over the course of a long, 82-game season. This prediction didn’t take that into consideration.

• The prediction also didn’t take into account how frequently the Penguins would give up breakaways and odd-man rushes, especially shorthanded. Take away just a couple of the seven shorthanded goals the Penguins allowed while Murray was on the ice and his save percentage would shoot past .920 for the season.

LESSONS LEARNED

• It’s hard for a goalie to finish the season with a save percentage better than .920. Know how many qualifying goalies did that in the NHL last season? Nine. The Penguins haven’t exactly played the stingiest defense in the league over the last few years. To predict one of their goalies will have a save percentage that high is risky.

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