Matthew Murray says he isn’t the most superstitious goaltender. Other than going through the same stretches and warmup drills before putting on his gear, he doesn’t do a whole lot – aside from putting the left side of his equipment on first, but that’s just how he was taught to do it when he first started playing.
Well, whatever it is he’s doing, it’s working.
The rookie goaltender has been on an absolutely incredible run for Wilkes Barre/Scranton, as he recorded his third straight shutout – extending his scoreless streak to 185:22 minutes – in the Penguins’ 7-0 win over Bridgeport on March 1.
Overall, Murray – Pittsburgh’s third-round pick (83rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft – has shutouts in four of his last five games and five of his last seven. His goose egg on Sunday was his eighth of the season in just 28 appearances, setting a new team record for shutouts in a season and breaking the mark of seven Brad Thiessen set in 2010-11.
“The last little bit has been great for our whole team,” Murray said. “I think our team’s been really solid lately. We were always a really good defensive team, but I think the past month or so it’s been even better than normal. So I’ve definitely reaped the benefits of that.”
Murray was named February’s CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month after allowing just one of 110 shots past him in four games and posting a 0.25 goals-against average, .991 save percentage and three shutouts. Overall, he’s 16-8-2 and leads the entire AHL in goals-against average (1.65), save percentage (.936) and, of course, shutouts.
“It’s great to get recognized with the goalie of the month,” Murray said. “I’m very honored by that. To have the record for shutouts here for me, that’s a real honor as well. That’s something that doesn’t come easy. It’s cool to see your name in the record books, I guess. But I don’t really play to get shutouts. I play to try and win games. That’s the most important thing.”
Like any good teammate, Murray of course credited the guys in front of him for helping him out during his stretch. However, he did admit – after some prodding – to being aware of the situation as the minutes counted down in each game during his streak.
“It’s hard not to, you know?,” he said. “You try not to think about it because you never really want to get too far ahead of yourself, but if you look up and see there’s maybe 10 minutes left or something, it kind of motivates me to try to finish out the game and get that shutout, for sure. It’s always nice to get a shutout.”
The 20-year-old netminder is in his first full season as a pro. He made the transition after a tremendous year – his second as the starter, fourth overall – with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, where he finished as runner-up for the league’s Goaltender of the Year after finishing with a 32-11-6 record, .921 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average in 49 games.
Additionally, he tied for the OHL lead with six shutouts, ranked second in wins, third in save percentage and sixth in goals-against average and was named an OHL Second-Team All-Star.
In order to translate that success to this level, there’s been a lot of things that Murray has worked on with goalie development coach Mike Buckley, who’s in his second season working and assisting with the development of the organization’s netminder. The biggest adjustment for the 6-foot-4 goaltender has been controlling his depth and getting out further on clear shots.
“I feel like in junior, I’m a pretty big guy so I was able to play deeper and maybe read the pass a little bit more and still get away with it if the guy shot,” Murray said. “But in pros, shots are so much better and earlier in the year, I found myself getting beat clean on a lot of shots. That’s something I had to adjust to.”
Murray has also been working on the mental side of his game as well. That part is just as important for goalies as the physical aspect, so Buckley has given him a lot of exercises for that as well.
“For me, what I try to do is I try to take it one day at a time and during a game, I try to take it one shot at a time and one read at a time and really not try to get too far ahead of myself,” Murray said. “Which is very cliché, but it’s really the best way to do it because you just focus on one play and one shot, you kind of just take it one at a time and you don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’re always in the moment. I think that’s big, being in the moment.”
While Murray is in the midst of a hot stretch, overall he has been splitting the net with Jeff Zatkoff and the two of them have helped WBS go on an 8-0-1-1 run.
Zatkoff, who’s in his sixth full professional season, spent all of last year with Pittsburgh and won 12 games while backing up Marc-Andre Fleury. The 27-year-old has been a tremendous mentor for Murray both on and off the ice during their time together this year.
“I was pretty nervous coming into my first pro season, for sure,” Murray said. “Always had questions and was always curious about different things. He was kind of my go-to guy whenever I had a question about something, about anything. Even the pro lifestyle, anything at home, living by yourself, that kind of thing. Because he’s been through it and he’s such an unbelievably nice guy, he’s really easy to talk to.
“I’m sure he probably was fairly annoyed with me at the beginning of the year because I was asking him so many questions, but he’s been great. To have a guy like that, who’s been basically successful at every level he’s played at – he’s been to the NHL and that’s where I want to get to eventually – to learn from has been great.”
Murray knows it’s probably going to be a while before he does transition to the next level here in Pittsburgh. So for now, he’s enjoying the run he’s on right now and working every day to be prepared when his time does come.
“Everything I do is obviously to try and make it to the NHL one day,” he said. “That’s the goal, obviously. I don’t really have any control over when that happens, but I just want to be ready for when it does happen and when I get my chance. Just trying to stay in the moment and be ready whenever an opportunity comes up.”