Tim Benz: Penguins goalies consistent in up-and-down first month | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: Penguins goalies consistent in up-and-down first month

Tim Benz
Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl scores the winning goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray during overtime in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. The Oilers won 2-1.

The coach.

The quarterback.

The offensive coordinator.

That’s the “blame game” holy trinity when it comes to the average football fan.

Hockey is much easier. Just blame the goalie. For everything.

Marc-Andre Fleury can speak to that. Between 2010 and Matt Murray’s emergence in 2016, for an all-too-big and all-too-vocal segment of the fan base, everything was Fleury’s fault. All the time. Exclusively.

This year, things have been so-so for the Penguins. They are 8-5-1 in their first 14 games to start 2019.

But one thing is clear. The goaltending isn’t to blame.

For either netminder.

Entering play Sunday, Murray’s goals against average is 8th in the NHL at 2.17. His career average is 2.59. Murray’s seven wins are the second-most in hockey so far. His .924 save percentage is pacing at the best level of his career for a full season.

Backup goalie Tristan Jarry has only won one of his three appearances. But he has stopped 93 of 99 shots for an impressive .939 save percentage. That would be third-best in hockey if he had enough playing time to qualify.

“It’s a matter of knowing what your drive is,” Jarry said Saturday. “Matt and I have made a constant improvement over the year. Every game. Every practice.”

Fueled by that tandem, the Penguins’ .921 save percentage ranks sixth in the league. The club’s 2.36 goals against is tied with Vancouver for the fourth-best mark in the sport.

The Penguins have done a better job insulating their netminders this season as opposed to a year ago. At 29.7 shots against per game, only six teams are allowing fewer shots on goal so far this season.

At 33.3 last year, only five teams allowed more in 2018-19.

“I’m just trying to keep the team in the game when I can,” Murray said. “Just trying to make as many saves as I can. The team has been playing great. I’m just trying to do my part. But it’s really encouraging to see how the guys are doing.”

A deeper look shows that Murray has been good on some of the most difficult save attempts, too. NaturalStatTrick.com ranks Murray eighth in both high-danger shots against (68) and seventh in high-danger saves (58). And the Murray-Jarry pair ranks eighth in high-danger save percentage collectively at 85.7%.

Head coach Mike Sullivan spoke to those numbers after a 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers Saturday when Murray stopped 26-of-28 shots. More than a few were under tense circumstances.

“Matt made some timely saves for us,” Sullivan said after the loss. “Our goaltending tandem has done that all year.”

Not only have both players been consistent this season, but they have been healthy. That’s been an issue in the past, especially in the case of Murray.

“You don’t have consistency — or win — without good goaltending,” captain Sidney Crosby said Saturday. “(Murray) has been consistent since he got here. Both he and (Jarry) have done a good job of playing well.”

So, if you are looking for reasons to gripe about the Penguins after the first month of the season, look elsewhere besides the goaltending. The #MurraysGloveHand tweets will have to wait for a while.

After going 0-for-5 on the power play against the Oilers, maybe focus on that for a day.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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