Penguins counting on Kris Letang, Matt Murray to rebound
Camp countdown: With two days left before the Penguins open training camp Friday morning in Cranberry, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie highlights two key players looking to improve on last season’s results.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins saw their three-peat bid ended by the Washington Capitals last season, no one had a better view of all the gory details than Matt Murray and Kris Letang.
Such is life for a starting goaltender and a No. 1 defenseman on a team that suffers a second-round playoff exit, but it’s a bitter pill all the same.
Letang all too often found himself chasing odd-man rush attempts by Washington’s talented forwards.
Murray’s save percentage in the series was .905, well below the lofty standards he set in his previous two postseason runs.
Letang took those bad memories and pushed them into the recesses of history as fast as he could. Murray used them to fuel his offseason program.
Either way, with the start of training camp two days away, here’s a look at Letang and Murray, the two players the Penguins need a bounce-back performance from more than any others in order to contend for a championship.
1. A lift for Letang
Letang is neither a doctor nor a mathematician, so this number is unofficial, but ask the 31-year-old how much better he feels approaching training camp now that he’s 17 months removed from major neck surgery and he doesn’t hesitate.
“Like a million times better,” Letang said after the Penguins held an informal workout Tuesday morning in Cranberry. “It’s not even close.”
Letang said there’s no need for him to reflect on his struggles from last year now that a new season is only days away. A well-known fitness fanatic, Letang feels a hard summer in the gym will help him rebound more than any quiet contemplation about past failings ever could.
“Mentally, you’re more sharp, so you can keep a high pace all game and be able to process everything the same way,” Letang said. “If you don’t train, yes you can have a good shift, but when the fatigue starts creeping on you, you start making bad decisions.”
Thanks in part to the addition of free agent defenseman Jack Johnson, there’s been some speculation the Penguins might seek to limit Letang’s minutes in an effort to maximize his effectiveness.
Letang has an interesting take on that. He feels that his ice time is, in a way, something he can very directly control.
“I don’t have an opinion on that. I’m just telling you that if I play well, I play well and they put me on the ice. If I don’t, obviously you don’t want that guy on the ice,” Letang said. “That’s just how it’s going to go, I guess.”
2. Murray’s motivation
When Murray traveled back to Thunder Bay at the end of last season, he headed home for the summer without a Stanley Cup championship for the first time in his NHL career.
The experience didn’t change Murray’s goals.
“You never really want to get any worse in the summer,” Murray said. “You want to get better at everything all the time.”
It may, however, have changed the fire with which Murray pursued his annual quest for self-improvement.
He watched two other teams competing for hockey’s most cherished trophy, and frankly, he didn’t like it.
“You’ve got to use those emotions in a positive way,” Murray said. “If you’re able to harness that and use it in a proper way, I think it can be beneficial for you.”
Speaking philosophically, Murray said he wants to become a better leader in the locker room. Speaking pragmatically, he said he hopes extensive summer video sessions will help him shore up the finer points of his game.
“Having a little bit of extra time gave me a good opportunity to step back and really look at my game objectively,” Murray said, “and realize when it’s not where it needs to be.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.