NASHVILLE – After the Nashville Predators lost the first two games of the Stanley Cup final in front of a leaky goaltender, they unequivocally threw their support behind Pekka Rinne and we saw the result. After Game 3, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ turn to come to the defense of their embattled goaltender.
The good news for the Penguins, though, is that if Matt Murray’s short history as a goaltender in the NHL is any indication, he’ll return with a sterling effort in Game 4. Murray only turned 23 years old a little more than a week ago, but has exhibited the poise and unflappability of a veteran following a bad outing. Murray has lost only eight playoff games as an NHLer and following the previous seven losses, all he’s done is gone 7-0, posting a .159 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Through the course of his career, Murray has lost back-to-back games only three times and one of those losses was a shootout.
There’s little doubt Murray has to bounce back, though. Not only did the Predators light him up for five goals on 33 shots in Game 2, they scored four of them on the glove side. Three of them were put in that area deliberately and one of them went off Carter Rowney’s glove. It’s a strange phenomenon that it seems only one goalie at a time in this series can have a good glove hand. The Penguins torched Rinne in Games 1 and 2 by going to his glove side.
“I think we can expect his best next game because I’m sure he’s pissed off and that’s when he’s at his best,” said Penguins winger Conor Sheary. “One bad game is not going to change our opinions on Matt. We all know he’s a world-class goaltender. He took us to a Cup last year and hopefully he can do the same this year. He’s a confident goalie and we’ll expect more from him tomorrow.”
For his part, Murray can’t really explain his ability to rebound from sub-par outings. Check that. He doesn’t want to explain his ability to rebound for sub-par outings, for some reason. Professional athletes have a remarkable ability to compartmentalize, both good and bad games, which is part of what makes them special in the first place. So we’re assuming Murray has the ability to do that. But we can’t be sure, largely because his economy of movement in the crease is only surpassed by his economy of words.
“Just play the game, man,” he said. “Just play the game.”
We’re going to play the hunch that Murray will be back to his usual poised and technically fundamental self in Game 4. With Rinne seemingly having relocated his groove, that could make for a rather intriguing goaltending battle the rest of the series. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is confident that Murray will exhibit the same characteristics he has to this point in his career.
“I just think he has the ability to move by adversities,” Sullivan said of Murray. “He’s a mentally tough kid. He’s a real resilient kid. He doesn’t let any of the outside noise, or if he thought he should have had one of the goals, he doesn’t let that stuff affect him. He has the ability to move by that stuff. Usually that’s a certain maturity in a player’s game, regardless of the position. It might be most difficult at the goaltending position for obvious reasons. That’s a maturity in someone’s game that usually takes time to acquire.”
So if there’s nothing to worry about with the goaltending, the Penguins must move on to more pressing matters. The first is the power play, which has been abysmal in this series. The other is the dearth of good looks for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Of course, those two are related, but it’s still alarming to see Crosby with only four shots in the series and Malkin with a measly two. Malkin has just three shot attempts in total. Phil Kessel is shooting, but most of his attempts are from the periphery and resemble his worst times in Toronto. Even Sullivan was imploring his stars to begin shooting more.
“As a coach, it’s always a fine line because you don’t want to interfere with their instincts,” Sullivan said of Crosby and Malkin. What we try to do with them is just try to get them to think in terms of having that shot-first mindset. I think when they do that, everything else will open up for them. We thought there were opportunities in the game for both of those guys to put pucks on the net. They chose not to because that’s what their instincts were telling them. I just think moving forward, if they can have a little bit more heightened awareness of trying to put pucks on the net, these guys are going to produce for us.”
Oh yes, and, for the record, Crosby claimed Subban “made up” his claim that Crosby said Subban’s breath smelled. So we can all put a final end to the most inconsequential and inane storyline of the Stanley Cup final and move on to Game 4.