Penguins' Matt Murray returns to 'sanctuary' 6 days after dad's death
Technically speaking, the goal crease is a semicircle with a 6-foot radius differentiated from the rest of an NHL ice rink by its trademark blue hue. For Penguins goalie Matt Murray, it's a lot more than that.
It's where he earns his living, spending hour after hour there as he works on his craft.
It's where he has seen his greatest triumphs, most notably on June nights in San Jose and Nashville over the past two seasons.
Most importantly, on Monday morning, it was a safe haven after some of the most trying times of the 23-year-old goaltender's life.
Murray returned to practice with his teammates at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry six days after the death of his father.
"Hockey definitely took a back seat for a couple days, but when you're out there, it's kind of a sanctuary," Murray said. "Just try to throw yourself back into it."
Murray: 'Hockey definitely took a back seat for a couple days, but when you're out there, it's kind of a sanctuary.' pic.twitter.com/OFBO3J6sdD— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 22, 2018
Murray met with reporters after practice, fighting through tears as he gave thanks to those who offered condolences.
"I guess I just want to say a big thanks, first of all, to Pittsburgh," Murray said. "The team did a lot for me, helping me get home, stuff like that. Thanks to my teammates."
He said his family in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
"It's tough, but we stick together," Murray said. "It just is what it is."
Conor Sheary was Murray's road roommate in Wilkes-Barre and met his father a few times. He conveyed the powerlessness teammates felt in their effort to offer comfort to Murray.
"It's a weird thing when it happens to one of your friends, one of your teammates," Sheary said. "All you can do is give him support. Just let him know you're there for him. That's just a tough situation. We're all rallying around him."
Coach Mike Sullivan shared similar sentiments.
"We're just trying to support him in any way that we can," Sullivan said. "It's a difficult circumstance. It's hard to lose a parent. It's a difficult time. Everybody grieves differently. As his coaching staff and his teammates, we're just trying to be there for him in any way we can to help him through this."
Sullivan said he would have a sit-down with Murray before trying to determine his status as it pertains to returning to game action.
Murray hasn't played since Jan. 7, when he stopped all six shots he faced in relief of Tristan Jarry in a 6-5 overtime victory against Boston. He hasn't started since stopping 29 shots in a 4-0 loss to Carolina on Jan. 4.
"We'll take each day as it comes with Matt, but we're certainly excited to have him back with our team," Sullivan said.
In the meantime, the Penguins have stumbled into a young goaltending tandem that seems to work for them.
Jarry, 22, played brilliantly in the first two weeks of January, going 4-0-0 with a .927 save percentage before running into trouble and making 28 saves in a 5-3 loss at Anaheim last Wednesday.
Casey DeSmith, 26, exceeded expectations in his first two NHL starts during the team's recently completed West Coast road trip. He stopped 62-of-65 shots in a 3-1 win over Los Angeles on Thursday and a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday.
Whether Jarry and DeSmith were performing well or not, though, is largely immaterial. It's clear the Penguins intend to give Murray as much time as he needs to get back into action.
"I don't want to be a distraction," Murray said. "We've got some important games coming up. It's back to business, I guess."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.