Chipped Ice A.M.: Penguins’ Murray has hands full with Nashville attack
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was in the spotlight after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night for a historically poor performance in net.
He stopped 7-of-11 shots, which gave him the worst save percentage for any goaltender who completed a playoff game in the NHL since the 1967 expansion.
Because he was downright airtight by comparison and because his team came away with a 5-3 victory, not nearly as much attention was paid to Matt Murray’s performance in the Penguins net.
By the standards he has set in his short playoff career, it was a poor showing as well.
Murray stopped 23-of-26 shots. That’s the fifth-worst save percentage he’s recorded in 27 career playoff appearances. He has given up two goals or fewer in 18 of those 27 games, so a three-spot counts as an off night when grading on the curve.
“It’s hard to kind of put a finger on why it turned out the way it did,” Murray said. “I think we were just glad to get the win at the end of the night. Like I said yesterday, I think it just came down to big plays at big times. Not a dominant performance, of course, by any means, but we got it done.”
As the series continues with Game 2 Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena, there’s no reason to believe things will get any easier for Murray.
The Predators look to be as dangerous as advertised, especially on defense. With Roman Josi pounding shots from the point and P.K. Subban flying through all three zones, Nashville’s blue line presents a particularly interesting challenge for an opposing goaltender.
Predators defensemen essentially got three pucks past Murray in Game 1, though one Subban goal was waved off for interference and a Josi shot in the third period actually deflected in off the leg of Colton Sissions in front.
“A lot of similar stuff that we scouted, for sure,” Murray said. “Point shots. Their top four D are huge for them in the offense. They’re good at jumping into the rush, as well as off the cycle, in-zone type of play. That’s a big part of their offense. They showed that (in Game 1), I thought.”
Murray’s prescription for slowing down Nashville’s defense starts with Penguins forwards giving them less time and space to operate in the offensive zone.
“I think try to stay in their face as much as possible, not allow them to get going,” Murray said. “That would be the biggest thing. Then, you know, they’re going to get their chances, but at the end of the day it’s just about trying to hold them off, playing hard defensively. I think being hard in our net front is key, too.”
When Nashville’s defensemen do get shots off, Murray said he has to rely on one of his greatest strengths in net – his ability to anticipate.
“It just comes down to reading the play, knowing where guys are on the ice, looking for that second wave, not get too puck focused,” Murray said. “A lot of times they hit late, that’s where they create their offense. Like any other game, it’s about reading the play.”
Murray did not participate in an optional Penguins practice Tuesday morning, but he said that was because if he is only going to skate once before a game, he prefers it to be on game day rather than the day before.
He said he was not feeling any ill effects from a play where he was landed on by teammate Ron Hainsey in the second period of Game 1 and was slow to get up.
He also said he’s not expecting that will be the last contact he has to endure in the series.
“They go hard to the net with their forwards,” Murray said. “It’s definitely expected, something I’m prepared for.”
THE SERIES: Penguins lead, 1-0
LAST GAME: Jake Guentzel’s goal late in the third period propelled the Penguins to an unlikely 5-3 victory in Game 1. They were outshot, 26-12.
NEXT GAME: The Penguins will try to go 4-0 in Game 2 of a series this postseason when they host the Predators at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
A NOTE: Chris Kunitz has recorded multiple points in each of the last two games. He had three multiple-point games in the regular season.
A QUOTE: “We lost the game. We sit here, they’re up 1-0, we’re down 0-1. We have to be better. We have to put the hammer on the gas pedal, make sure we’re ready to get after it.” – Nashville coach Peter Laviolette
A NUMBER: 17 – points for Guentzel in the playoffs. The NHL record for most points in one postseason by an American-born rookie is 18 set by Joe Mullen in 1982.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
Editor’s note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Predators.