Rough night for Penguins, goalie Murray in loss to Caps
WASHINGTON — Matt Murray was awakened from a dream start to the 2016-17 season by a CCM to the face.
Not only was the 22-year-old goaltender touched up for a pair of early goals Wednesday night in suffering his first loss of the season, he also took a violent knock to the head from a teammate’s stick late in the first period, watching the final 40 minutes of a 7-1 Washington Capitals victory from the bench.
For Murray’s teammates, the slap in the face was a figurative one.
Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and three assists as the Capitals broke out of an offensive slump during which they scored a total of five goals in their previous four games.
The Penguins were blown out on the road for the third time this season. They also lost 4-0 at Montreal and 5-1 at Nashville.
“These games are humbling,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were embarrassed out there tonight. All of us. It’s humbling when you go through it. My hope is that we learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
With 23.7 seconds left in the first period, Karl Alzner took a couple of extra whacks at Murray as he bobbled a puck.
Evgeni Malkin objected to Alzner’s behavior and made a beeline for the Capitals defenseman, accidentally knocking off Murray’s mask in the process. As a wrestling match broke out behind the net, Malkin’s stick swung wildly and clocked Murray in the face.
“He slashed Murray, a hard slash,” Malkin said. “I was trying to take him. I don’t know why it’s a penalty four minutes for me. It’s a dirty play for a defenseman. Of course I’m upset.”
Murray left the ice to be examined per the NHL’s concussion protocol, which he said he felt was unnecessary. He quickly was cleared to return and was back on the bench by the start of the second period. Sullivan said he felt leaving Marc-Andre Fleury in for the rest of the game “just made sense.”
“I was just kind of minding my own business, and (Malkin) is just in a bit of a scrum with whoever and he goes to grab him and his stick just swings around,” Murray said. “I wasn’t even looking, and it just catches me right in the mouth. Just unfortunate, but I’m fine, so it’s easy to laugh off now.”
Fleury entered the game with the Capitals on a power play because Malkin was given a double minor for roughing. The first shot Fleury faced was a John Carlson blast from the top of the left faceoff circle. The puck got through him, and T.J. Oshie cleaned it up for his second goal of the game, giving the Capitals a 3-0 lead.
Fleury was victimized four more times as the Penguins mounted little resistance in the final two periods.
They took six minor penalties in the final 35 minutes of the game, squashing any possible idea of a longshot comeback.
“We could do a lot of things better, I think,” Murray said. “Even after the first period, the game’s not over by any means. I think what hurt us was taking too many penalties in the second period.”
Bemoaning the penalties the Penguins took put too fine a point on the loss for Sullivan’s taste.
“We played a team that was more competitive than us tonight, and they were better than us tonight,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know how else to explain it.
“I’m a strong believer that your mindset going into games is critically important to your ability to have success. Our team, as a group tonight, we weren’t ready to play.
“We can search for solutions tactically, but sometimes this game is about will more than it’s about skill. It’s a competitive league. If you’re not ready to play, you’re going to get beat.”