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Metropolitan Division notebook

Matt Murray of Penguins, Nicklas Backstrom of Capitals quietly in running for individual awards

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Sometimes it's easy to forget that Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is a rookie.

Murray, 22, already has his name on the Stanley Cup after playing in 21 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and has looked a lot like a veteran this season, going 21-7-3 with a 2.32 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and three shutouts.

By reaching 30 career wins in his first 44 NHL appearances (Murray was 9-2-0 in 13 games during the regular season in 2015-16), Murray tied Pete Peeters (1979-80) as the fourth-fastest goalie to that mark. But he qualifies as a rookie and for the Calder Trophy because his 13 regular-season games last season were below the 25-game cutoff.

Still, Murray has been left out of most conversations about the League's top rookies with much of the attention on Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blues Jackets.

That doesn't seem to bother him.

Video: PIT@CBJ: Murray sprawls to stop Jenner, Atkinson

"At the end of the day, I really don't care about individual awards," Murray said. "I just want to win as a team. That's what's important. I'll just keep doing my thing and whether they talk about me or not really doesn't matter."

Even after all the experience Murray gained in the playoffs, his first full season in the NHL has been a learning process, like it is for all rookies.

"It's a completely different animal from the playoffs or from the American Hockey League regular season, for that matter, just because the schedule is so packed," he said. "It's a completely different thing than I've ever gone through before."

Another new experience for Murray was dealing with a significant injury. He sat out the first nine games after fracturing his right thumb playing for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He also missed three games with a lower-body injury he sustained against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 28.

"My thumb kept me out for six weeks, so that's pretty long term," he said. "I'd never dealt with anything like that before, so coming back from that was a challenge. Then, I had another minor injury that was also a challenge to come back from. But it might not be the last time I get hurt, so it's good to go through that now."

Murray said having veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury around to guide him has been invaluable. He said he has learned "too many things to count" from the 32-year-old. 

"Most of all just how to be a pro," Murray said. "You come to the rink ready to compete no matter if it's a practice, a morning skate or a game. … I could sit here and talk for days about that, but that's the easiest way to sum it up: Just how to be the consummate professional."

Video: DET@PIT: Murray robs Sheahan twice with glove stops

Although competing for playing time with Fleury could have made things uncomfortable between them, Murray said that has never been the case.

"I know I don't worry about that whatsoever and [Fleury] would tell you the same," Murray said. "It's out of our control, so why even think about it?"

Murray takes the same approach with the Calder Trophy talk but said if he had to pick the League's top rookie, it's probably Matthews.

"I got to play with Matthews at the World Cup, so I know a little bit about him and what he's about," he said. "He seems a lot older than a 19-year-old. He's a pretty impressive kid. I would say him."

 

Backstrom quietly in Art Ross Trophy race

Like almost everything he does, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom has quietly climbed into the race for the Art Ross Trophy with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in his past 21 games. That puts Backstrom in fourth place and six behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for the League lead with 61 points (17 goals, 44 assists) in 58 games.

Backstrom also ranks second in the NHL with 44 assists, three behind McDavid. He had an eight-game point streak (four goals, 10 assists) end in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday but remains the only player in the NHL with two point streaks of at least eight games this season. He had a 10-game streak (four goals, 13 assists) from Jan. 5 to Jan. 23.

Not that many seemed to notice.

"[That] describes Nicklas Backstrom's career, outstanding numbers every year, very efficient, quietly gets it done under-the-radar," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "You look up and you go, 'Hey [Backstrom's] No. 4 now in scoring and it happens very quietly. That's what makes him so efficient and you know what I think of him as a player. He's an outstanding two-way player in the League. He quietly gets it done."

Video: WSH@PIT: Backstrom wires a wrist shot past Murray

Among Backstrom's other quiet achievements was reaching 700 NHL points against the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 11. By doing it in 708 games, he became the eighth fastest active player to that number.

"Over the years, I haven't really been thinking about numbers this high," Backstrom said. "So I'm obviously very humble about it."

 

Stat pack

The New York Islanders are on an 11-game home point streak (9-0-2), their longest since a 23-game streak to finish the 1981-82 season (21-0-2). … Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had an NHL career-high three points (all assists) in a 3-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. ... Penguins center Evgeni Malkin got his 500th NHL assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Brandon Dubinsky's winning goal in that game was the first overtime goal of his NHL career. … The Penguins' 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday was their fourth in regulation at home this season. The other three came against the Minnesota Wild (4-2 on Nov. 10), Rangers (5-2 on Nov. 21) and St. Louis Blues (3-0 on Jan. 24).

 

Games to watch

New York Islanders at Detroit Red Wings (Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, MSG+2, NHL.TV) -- The first of a team-record nine consecutive road games for the Islanders, who don't play at home again until March 13.

Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers (Feb. 22, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- A Wednesday Night Rivalry game. The Flyers return home from their Western Canada road trip seeking to keep pace in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils (Feb. 25, 5 p.m. ET; MSG+, MSG, NHL.TV) -- The first visit to Prudential Center for the Rangers this season after defeating the Devils at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 11 (5-0) and Dec. 18 (3-2 shootout).

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins (Feb. 25, 8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV) -- A celebration of Pennsylvania hockey in the 2017 Coors Light Stadium Series at Heinz Field.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers (Feb. 28, 7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports, MSG, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV) -- The Capitals return to Madison Square Garden for a rematch with the Rangers after a 2-1 loss on Feb. 19.

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