Again earlier than the doubts, the dips in kind, the questions of whether or not he can ever once more be what he as soon as was, Matt Murray was a phenomenon.
Earlier than he set foot within the massive leagues, he rewrote historical past within the minors, setting the document for the longest shutout streak in AHL historical past (an absurd 304 minutes and 11 seconds) throughout his first marketing campaign as a professional. By the tip of that 2014-15 season, he’d put up 12 shutouts on the yr, essentially the most ever collected by an AHL rookie, the second-most ever amassed by anybody in that league.
By the tip of the subsequent season, he already had a Stanley Cup ring — not received as a fortunate first-year passenger, however hard-earned, the 21-year-old unexpectedly beginning 21 of 24 playoff video games as Sidney Crosby and Co. climbed the 2016 mountain. The yr after that? He took over Pittsburgh’s regular-season beginning duties for actual, and capped off what was technically his true rookie yr by driving a sterling .937 save proportion by the playoffs to win his second Stanley Cup in as many makes an attempt.
Mike Buckley had a front-row seat to that meteoric rise. The goaltending coach labored alongside Murray in the course of the netminder’s junior days in Sault Ste. Marie, then within the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and eventually with the large membership for these two title runs.
From the start, he says, Murray’s expertise was clear.
“Right off the bat, you could tell he was very mature,” Buckley remembers. “He had a style of play that, you could tell right away he was going to transition to professional hockey fairly easily. Just because he could read the game very well.”
When Murray’s at his finest — whether or not again then, and even nonetheless — it’s that innate understanding of the sport that rises to the highest.
“I think it’s mainly his anticipation, his ability to just stay calm under pressure — no matter what the situation was, he would maintain that level of calmness,” the coach says. “You might have sure varieties of conditions as a goaltender. You might have moments the place you must simply be calm and hold it easy and have a extremely primary save. You might have saves that require just a little bit extra urgency, possibly an odd-man rush, a two-on-one the place you have to get throughout the crease. Then you could have this flat-out desperation, the place you’re simply competing and battling.
“And if you look at Matt in all three of those situations, he looks exactly the same. He looks very calm. Maybe his body’s moving at a totally different speed, but you can just see the clarity in his mindset.”
Throughout these early years, as Murray was making an attempt to steadiness adjusting to the NHL with seemingly taking it over, Buckley’s focus with the younger goaltender was as a lot on solidifying that mindset because it was sprucing up his mechanics.
“We spent a lot more time working on the mental game and just mindset performance,” the coach says. “It wasn’t a lot making an attempt to take the way in which he was enjoying and drastically change it, simply actually taking child steps. … A giant factor that we at all times had with one another was ‘Love over fear.’ Select love. Simply loving the sport, loving getting on the market, loving the laborious moments — loving the stress, versus fearing it.
“And especially the first Cup run, he really, really embraced that motto. It’s one that we would say to each other all the time, ‘Love over fear.’ I think that had a big impact on his game.”
There have been, in fact, elements of Murray’s play that required fine-tuning, at the same time as he racked up shutouts and drove up his save proportion. Nonetheless, shifting his method to these particulars additionally appeared to come back again to mindset.
“I think, in Pittsburgh, where he had some struggles is where he would start to play deep in net and he’d be very conservative in net. … He would generally start off each season playing a little bit deeper — I think he always kind of had the mindset that he needed to conserve his energy so he could play a lot of games,” Buckley says. “Where he had more success was when he was a little more aggressive, not just in his conditioning but just his mindset. And, also, same thing with practice — just put in the hard work in practice, don’t conserve anything.”
The place the story went after that dreamlike early chapter in Pittsburgh is well-documented. As shortly as he rose, the younger netminder got here again to Earth, the numbers dipping, the beginning function starting to fall to Tristan Jarry. Half a decade after he’d burst onto the scene in Cup-clinching glory, Murray was headed for a reset in Ottawa.
However having watched all of it play out firsthand from behind the scenes, Buckley says it was extra sophisticated than it would’ve appeared from afar, few understanding simply how a lot stress was on Murray’s shoulders throughout these early years, and the toll it took.
“When you look at the success he had at such a young age, it’s unprecedented. No goaltender in the NHL has ever done that — two Stanley Cups as a rookie. No one’s ever accomplished that. But no one’s ever faced that level of pressure, so there’s no handbook on that — you know, there’s no one that you can talk to and say, ‘Hey, you’ve done this before. How do you handle it?’” Buckley says. “He was the primary. And to not say that he wasn’t prepared for that giant degree of expectation, however whenever you’re enjoying on a crew that’s — let’s be trustworthy, Pittsburgh at the moment was a really offensive crew, that is going to have breakdowns. And after they do, they are going to be vital. And you have to provide you with an enormous save.
“And if you didn’t come up with that huge save at the right time, on a consistent basis, then you become the guy that gets kind of pointed at in the media. And I believe that’s exactly what happened with Matt. … I think for someone who had that much expectation on him at such a young age, that pressure at times got to him.”
That his transfer in 2020-21 was to a younger, rebuilding Senators crew didn’t essentially assist.
“Coming out of Pittsburgh on a low note and going to a situation where Ottawa was a younger team, not a very forgiving defensive structure in front of him, and multiple injuries — that’s hard to get a good footing for a goalie,” Buckley says. “If you talk about one of the hardest scenarios to go into when trying to come out of an already tough predicament, you know, that would be a tough one.”
The dropoff in Murray’s play over the previous two seasons appears to be about greater than only a proficient goaltender struggling the defensive errors of a porous blue line, although, in line with goalie coach Rob Gherson — a former Washington Capitals draft decide who spent a half-decade as a professional within the AHL, ECHL and UHL.
“He does a lot of things probably better now than he did when he was a rookie,” Gherson says of Murray, having pored over tape of the previous Penguin and Senator just lately. “You can see when he’s in his stance, he’s a little bit bigger, his chest is up higher, he has a little more knee-bend in his stance. Theoretically, that should make him a better goalie — he’s filling more net, he’s in a more athletic position. … But I think the biggest thing, watching clips from last year, is he’s really questioning himself as he makes saves.”
Gherson pulled a couple of clips from the tip of Murray’s run in Ottawa for example his level. Take these performs from the 27-year-old’s most up-to-date NHL video games, late within the Senators’ 2021-22 marketing campaign:
“He makes a good save here, but he’s really squeezing his knees together, trying to find the puck,” Gherson says of the above sequence in opposition to the Coyotes, from Murray’s last recreation as a Senator. “He doesn’t know where the puck is. For most goalies, that’s an issue of you thinking you have to do everything.”
“Here, that’s a huge, big, exaggerated poke-check,” he says of the above play in opposition to the Lightning. “And again, he’s trying to find the puck, he’s looking down, he doesn’t really know where the puck is.”
“When a goalie’s really confident in their ability, they’re going to maybe get toes to the top of the crease. But when you’re fighting the puck, when you think you have to do everything, you charge out and come flying out and just try to be big and block the puck,” he says, pointing to the above breakdown in opposition to the Canadiens. “That shows me that he didn’t really have a lot of confidence last year in himself, or in the team. I’m not sure what it was, but it manifests in trying to do too much, and then letting in goals that you probably should stop because you’re trying to do too much.”
However, rewind to the early Pittsburgh years, when Murray was at his finest, and also you see a extra centered method.
“In 2016, you can see him in these situations — Pittsburgh gave up good chances too, it wasn’t like it was always easy — but it’s so controlled,” the coach says of the above sequence from Murray’s first Cup yr. “He’s not panicking or doing any extra movements. He just beats the pass, he follows the rebound, and he’s on it.”
For individuals who’ve by no means performed the place, it’s obscure simply how a lot the efficiency of the blue line in entrance of a netminder can impression their very own success, Gherson says. It’s greater than merely the barrage of higher-danger scoring probabilities to take care of. There’s additionally, like Buckley described, the psychological facet of the place, which might shift considerably in the event you lose belief in your defenders.
“What happens when you’re playing on a team that’s giving up a lot of shots or a lot of scoring chances every night, and losing, or even on a team that just doesn’t score a lot, you feel like you have to be perfect,” Gherson explains. “You are feeling like you must begin doing different guys’ jobs — as an alternative of simply specializing in the shooter on a two-on-one, you are nervous concerning the cross. After which whenever you’re nervous concerning the cross, you begin drifting in the direction of the center of the online as an alternative of staying on an angle, and also you begin letting in objectives which can be your fault. … When it begins going the unsuitable means, it may be laborious to repair it.
“When you start letting goals in that are your fault because you’re trying to do your defenceman’s job, that starts weighing on you. And you start trying to do [even more]. And that’s when you lose confidence.”
Rocky as it would’ve been, the slate’s now been cleaned for Murray, the veteran touchdown in Toronto through commerce in July after a disappointing two-year run in Ottawa.
And whereas the evaluations for GM Kyle Dubas’s swing at changing former starter Jack Campbell have been blended, there’s cause to imagine the efficiency of the unit in entrance of Murray will higher equip him to indicate his finest along with his new membership.
“In a general sense, I would say the Leafs play pretty similar to the good Pittsburgh teams that he was on around 2016, 2017,” says ways skilled Jack Han, who served as an analyst for the Maple Leafs for 2 seasons, and as an assistant coach for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2019-20. “There are some differences in terms of the defensive structure and the details of how plays are defended, but overall, whether it’s the Leafs now or Pittsburgh a few years ago, these are both teams that like to have the puck, that defend mostly by having the puck and being up ice.”
Although the complexion of their offence may lead some to imagine the Maple Leafs are a run-and-gun squad, they’re removed from a crew that repeatedly hangs their goaltenders out to dry within the title of scoring probabilities, says Han.
“I think Toronto now, they’re a pretty good team defensively, from a personnel and from a structure point of view. I think it’s a little bit overrated how much they give up. Certainly any time that you play with the puck, there’s a chance that you turn it over at the blue line and it goes back the other way. That’s the price of doing business if you want to play with the puck,” he says. “I don’t see Toronto as especially vulnerable. As a matter of fact, I think, for the most part, they do a good job of helping their goalie. … You know, they’re not as good as Colorado, but they’re not that far off, for a team that plays with the puck and plays more of a possession style.”
That ought to be a optimistic for Murray, Gherson says, by way of reining in any tendency to attempt to do an excessive amount of within the cage.
“They’ve been a pretty good environment for the last few years defensively, where they’re not giving a ton of scoring chances up. And when you’re not facing a ton of scoring chances as a goalie, you can be confident that all you’ve got to do is your job. You don’t have to do everybody’s job.”
For Buckley, who’s seen Murray at his finest, and who is aware of him higher than most, the important thing to the two-time champ discovering success in Toronto might be about greater than the crew in entrance of him, although. It’s additionally a matter of going full-throttle from the very starting of his run in a Maple Leafs sweater, of shifting previous that previous want to carry again.
“You know, few and far between are the goalies that are going to play the workload that they used to play — 70 games, 65 games. It’s become much more of a two-man workload, and I think that’s going to be a huge part of him having success in Toronto. If he can accept that, that’s where he’s going to be at his best.” Buckley says. “And then, in the time that he has to be able to work, work hard and play his game the right way, without trying to conserve anything.”
As for the opposite questions, of the stress and the highlight and the burden of being relied upon to steer his membership by one other high-stakes playoff run, Buckley’s seen Murray climate that storm earlier than. He is watched that stress roll off his again, and he is watched it weigh heavy upon him.
The query shifting ahead might be whether or not studying from the latter permits Murray to expertise the previous as soon as once more.
“He has the experience of dealing with that pressure, having won those two Cups. I know it’s a different market in Toronto, but the Pittsburgh media is extremely hard on goaltending. … And he’s dealt with that,” Buckley says. “I believe as he is gotten older, he is realized to not permit the media and all that noise to have an effect on him as a lot. So I believe he is well-built to take care of any of that kind of distraction.
“For him, it is simply going to be enjoying his recreation. And what’s gotten him all of the success that he is had is being in management. Being answerable for his recreation, being aggressive when he will be aggressive, and using his play-reading expertise. … I believe when he is at his finest, he is rising above that stress.”