In back-to-back games, goalie Matt Murray has faced a combined 90 shots. That he has turned aside 88 of them has as much to do with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ modest two-game winning streak as anything else.
Murray backstopped the Penguins to a 4-1 win on Monday at Philadelphia and a 3-1 victory against Edmonton on Wednesday night.
The wins in consecutive starts were the first for Murray since he reeled off a nine-game winning streak from Dec. 15 to Jan. 11.
Murray stopped 50 of 51 shots against the Flyers and 38 of 39 attempts by the Oilers. It’s the most shots he faced in a two-game stretch this season.
“When he plays that way, the confidence carries over to the group in front of him,” coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday. “He’s got a calming effect with the way he plays the position. He’s very positionally sound, it’s an economy of motion. He reads the play extremely well.
“I’ve always felt his greatest asset is his hockey IQ, the ability to read the plays, to get to his spots. He makes difficult saves in certain instances look routing and they’re not, they are tough saves.
“That’s when Matt is at his very best, and he’s certainly been very good the past couple of games.”
Murray has lowered his goals-against-average to 2.82 and raised his save percentage to .916, just a tick below his career average. He used Thursday to take a breather and did not take part in an optional skate at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Murray’s play is heating up at the right time. With 25 games left in the season, the Penguins occupy the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and are just three points ahead of Carolina. Improved play on defense and in the net will help the Penguins as they try to chase a third Stanley Cup title in the past four years.
“It gives us confidence we can play in a 2-1 game, that it doesn’t have to be a run-and-gun track meet-style of game for us to win,” Murray said after beating the Oilers. “We can play good defensively, get our chances and win 2-1. That’s important, especially going into this time of the year heading down the stretch.
“The game tends to tighten up. Teams aren’t opening up much and don’t give you too many chances, so we have to be comfortable playing in games like that.”