Matt Murray turns back Connor McDavid, leads Penguins past Oilers
The matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers is often billed as a battle between Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
It’s probably more apt, though, to call it a showdown between McDavid and Matt Murray.
After all, the goalie’s the one taking a hands-on approach to keeping the superstar off the scoreboard.
Score one for the goalie.
Murray turned back McDavid on a second-period penalty shot, leading the Penguins to a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night.
The Penguins have won two in a row to move three points clear in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With the Oilers trailing by a goal late in the second, McDavid took off on a breakaway at the tail end of a Penguins power play. He was hooked first by Jake Guentzel, then Kris Letang, leading to the penalty shot call.
McDavid slowly approached the net and shot toward Murray’s glove hand. He snared it out of the air with a flourish and flopped to his backside.
With the Penguins trailing 1-0 after a lackluster first period, they struck for two quick goals in the first seven minutes of the second.
The first came short-handed from Bryan Rust.
Moments after he had a shot from the slot sail just wide of the post, Rust collected a puck that Matt Cullen was working with below the goal line, stepped in front of the post and backhanded in a shot before goalie Mikko Koskinen could react at the 2:30 mark.
The second came from Teddy Blueger less than four minutes later.
With Letang joining the play in the offensive zone, Blueger dropped back to cover the right point for his teammate. As Letang controlled the puck below the goal line, Blueger activated from his defensive position. Letang’s pass glanced off Koskinen’s gear, and Blueger buried a shot from the slot.
Blueger, who was a healthy scratch Monday night in Philadelphia, has scored in three of the seven NHL games he has played.
While the Penguins and Oilers boast two of the most exciting stars in the world in Crosby and McDavid, neither team has been setting the league on fire lately.
The Penguins ended a four-game losing streak with a 4-1 rivalry victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, but they remain stuck on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Oilers had lost seven of their last eight coming in, and after the most recent defeat, by a 5-2 score to San Jose on Saturday, coach Ken Hitchcock suggested there’s a problem when the coaches want it more than the players.
Despite their struggles, the Oilers’ top-line duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is as dangerous as any in the league. The Penguins found this out first hand before the game was five minutes old.
A diagonal pass from Letang to Tanner Pearson near the offensive blue line didn’t connect, allowing defenseman Darnell Nurse to quickly transition into a two-on-one the other way. McDavid fed Draisaitl for a shot from the left side inside the post to make it 1-0.
“They are definitely dangerous together,” Crosby said before the game. “They both can handle the puck really well, create plays, finish.”
It stands to reason the Penguins might focus on making smarter, more conservative decisions with the puck when McDavid and Draisaitl were on the ice, especially given Edmonton’s lack of scoring depth, but they didn’t do that in the early going.
“I would like to think at this time of the year we’re a little more settled in the way we play and would prefer not to give them a ton of odd-man rushes,” Crosby said.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.