Photo: Justin K. Aller
When two teams are as evenly matched as the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, every detail is crucial. From lucky bounces to drawing penalties, the little things can be game-changing. And then there’s the matter of goaltending.
Last series, Michal Neuvirth was handed the reins after Steve Mason put up three consecutive disappointing performances for the Flyers. As Neuvy made endless jaw-dropping stops, many of you wondered if the Caps were doomed, Halak-style. Alas, the superior team prevailed, and the Flyers were knocked out in Game Six.
Unlike the Flyers, the Pens are not a team the Caps can hold to 11 shots on goal in a single game. They’ll be facing some very talented players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, among others. And instead of attempting to wear down Mason on Neuvirth, the Caps will do battle against rising star Matt Murray. Murray, a rookie, played the entirety of the Penguins-Rangers series in place of starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still suffering from concussion symptoms.
In his career of 13 regular-season games, Murray has saved 330 of 355 shots for .930 save percentage. Not a bad start.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com spoke with three former NHL goalies about Murray. When asked to analyze the young goalie, Martin Biron, Martin Brodeur, and Brian Boucher answered similarly. They lauded Murray’s “calmness, composure, and mental toughness.”
Unlike Neuvirth’s slew of top-deck performances, is Murray’s playoff run characteristic of his usual play?
Probably not. Rosen notes that Murray posted impressive numbers while playing in his first professional hockey season. In the AHL, Murray boasted 25 wins, 12 of which were shutouts. And in Game Four, Murray notched his first NHL playoff shutout against the Rangers.
Despite lauding Murray’s play, Biron stated the obvious–that the Rangers were competitive, but not nearly to the same degree as the Caps.
“Not that the Rangers were not a threat, but I don’t think they really got anywhere near the action or the desire chances they needed against him,” Biron said. “Washington is a whole other story.”
From their top-six to their power play, the Caps’ offense can be deadly. However, Biron and Boucher were impressed with Murray’s ability to move on from allowing goals.
“It’s like nothing happened,” Biron said of Murray’s resilience.
When the Caps were struggling to score on Neuvirth, it was obvious that they needed to cash in on rebounds. Instead of crashing the net, they often fired long-range shots at Neuvy.
Brodeur was impressed not only with Murray’s rebound control, but his positioning as a whole. Like Biron, Brodeur doesn’t think that the Rangers were the ultimate test of Murray’s goaltending ability. The Caps consistently generate more shots than the Rangers, and Alex Ovechkin’s shot is a puzzle Murray will attempt to solve.
The Rangers are undoubtedly a weaker opponent than the Caps, but Murray deserves credit for helping limit the series to five games. His save percentage at 5v5 and 4v5 is impressive, and it mirrors that of a certain top goalie: Braden Holtby.
Playoff goalkeepers so far. pic.twitter.com/j5O9Bmbm3n
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 28, 2016
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