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Matt Murray Is In The Danger Zone

Matt Murray has seen a downturn in his surface and advanced stats this year. Photo via Getty Images

It is no secret that the Penguins, in general, are struggling this year.  There have been a whole host of theories on who is most to blame, but one of the most visible has been goalie Matt Murray.  His surface stats through his first 31 appearances are drastically down from last year.  To date, his goals-against-average is 2.93, well down from his 2.41 in last year’s campaign.  Likewise, his save percentage of .903 is well off the pace of the .923 he set last year in 49 games.

But it’s when you start to delve into some more advanced stats that you see how far he has fallen this year.  If you use the excellent Corsica.hockey website for goalie stats, you can sort the far right column labelled “GSAA”.  This stands for Goals Saved Above Average, which is the expected number of goals either above or below average, based on the shot danger faced for a goalie.  This year, Matt Murray is far and away the worst in this category, with a -10.87 GSAA, nearly 1.5 goals worse than the next closest starter (Craig Anderson of Ottawa).  To put this in perspective, last year Matt Murray was the 3rd best in this category with a whopping +18.15 GSAA.

In the paragraph above, I talked about how GSAA is calculated based on “shot danger”.  This concept by hockey sabermetricians says that not all shots are equally challenging, which makes a whole lot of sense.  There’s a stat called High Danger Save Percentage (HDSv%) that you can also sort on Corsica.  This year, Matt Murray’s HDSv% is just 77.37% (49th among all goalies to see time in the net).  Last year, he was 10th with a HDSv% of 82.94%.

With words, the high danger area is between the dots and coming out at 45 degree angles from the goalie’s crease.  Its shape is described as that of a home plate in baseball.  Here’s a look at it graphically:

I wanted to see how Murray was doing both pre- and post-lower body injury.  From the start of the season to 11/27/17, Murray had a GAA of 2.95 and a save percentage of just .906.  Since his return up to now, those numbers are 2.87 and .896.  Neither batch is great, but it doesn’t seem as if his lower body injury, believed to be a knee issue, has adversely affected his performance.

The goalie, as the last line of defense, gets the credit and the blame depending on how things are going.  It’s nearly impossible to parse out just how much blame should be apportioned to Murray and how much to a defense corps that has consistently let him down this year.  Last year, maybe the shots in the high danger area were more contested or at least the rebounds were corralled and swept out of harm’s way.  This year, there have been more open looks and the second chance follow-up opportunities.

I’d like to think that with even all of their struggles this year, that someone in the locker room has at some point leaned over to Matt Murray and had this exchange (and yes, I built a whole article on Murray around my favorite TV show):

Matt Murray is a fantastic goalie.  You don’t backstop two Stanley Cup-winning teams in your first two years in the league by accident.  Tristan Jarry also appears to be a fantastic goalie.  So even though Murray used to be “the goalie of the future”, he’s now the “goalie of the present”.  With Jarry’s presence, though, his present could be a lot shorter than many would expect.  You can’t have two outstanding goalies splitting games over a long period of time — too many egos and eventually salary issues.

If changes are truly afoot for the Penguins, whether in January or July, Matt Murray could be an attractive chip to use on the market if Jim Rutherford truly believes that Tristan Jarry is a #1 goalie.  And if one of them isn’t traded for help in other areas this season, there’s always the NHL Expansion Draft for Seattle in 2020

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

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