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In the first game since the Pittsburgh Penguins announced captain Sidney Crosby would be out at least six weeks, the Penguins steeled themselves for maximum effort. The Penguins had a prime opportunity against one of NHL bottom feeder New Jersey Devils but couldn’t score. Penguins goalie Matt Murray also failed to stop a pair of goals he could have stopped including the game-winner.
The Penguins lost 2-1 to New Jersey Friday night and Murray was not pleased with his performance.
“Rebound. Guy put it in,” Murray deadpanned.
Murray is interestingly blunt and short when he chooses. The Penguins goalie does not embarrass reporters but he also doesn’t answer questions he deems obvious or unnecessary, especially after a tough loss. And Friday night was a tough loss.
“Average at best. I mean, I’ve got to be better if we want to win the game,” Murray said of his performance.
The Penguins bombarded the New Jersey net with shots and chances but Mackenzie Blackwood who started the game with a low .895 save percentage stoned the Penguins. If it was a goalie battle, Blackwood won in a landslide.
“We were the better team out there, and we deserved better,” Murray said.
The Penguins created a ridiculously high volume of scoring chances and limited New Jersey to the bare minimum. The Penguins outchanced New Jersey 31-12 and doubled them in high danger chances, 11-5.
But the important first game facing the rest of 2019 without Crosby, it was Murray who came up short for the Penguins roster which will struggle to score goals without Crosby, top defenseman Kris Letang and crash-bang winger Patric Hornqvist.
Murray left the top corner open on the first New Jersey goal as he went to the butterfly to prepare for a shot from Zajac. Instead, it fluttered over Murray. It was a remarkably fluky goal as it deflected off Travis Zajac’s visor, and was not an actual shot. Murray lost sight of the puck which was otherwise stoppable.
The second New Jersey goal was also mostly on Matt Murray. After Penguins defenseman John Marino turned the puck over in the offensive zone, New Jersey forward Blake Coleman raced to the Penguins zone. However, Coleman sent a long wrist shot at Murray, but Murray misplayed it and lost sight of the puck. Coleman beat Marino to the net and poked the loose puck into the now open net.
“It’s a tough one, I think we would have liked that second goal (back). It was one of those fluky ones, he didn’t field it clean. It was kind of a nothing play that wound up in the back of our net,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
The Penguins limited New Jersey to only two shots on goal in the third period and 21 shots overall.
If you’re an advanced stat devotee, the Penguins Corsi showed the game was mostly played in the New Jersey zone for the second and third periods. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. The Penguins kept the front of their net clean, as evidenced by the heat map from NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Penguins crashed the net but couldn’t find a second goal. They looked. And looked, but couldn’t find it.
The Penguins have lost (including OT losses), three of their last five games and trailed by multiple goals in all five games. The team has been, at best, lackluster in the first period. They have spotted their opponents chances, shots and goals.
Penguins Need Matt Murray
It’s not fair to ask Murray to win games, but the Penguins are in dire need now without Crosby. Someone has to win a game. Or two. The Penguins need an extra save or two, now more than ever. Murray is capable and routinely shows such powers in April, May and even June. If the Penguins want a chance to play into the warm months, they can’t lose traction now. This season, the Eastern Conference is deep.
There will not be a steep fall off after the two wild-card teams this season. Instead, it appears some talented teams could miss the playoffs. If the Penguins want to avoid another long, agonizing summer, they will have to find ways to win games without Sidney Crosby.
And their goalie will have to be better than “average at best,” for at least the next six weeks.