When the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up goalie Matt Murray during the summer from the Ottawa Senators, there were critics. Tons of them.
At the time, it seemed to many as if the Maple Leafs were getting desperate and there were few cookies left in the goalie cookie jar. As well, part of the ire over the Murray trade was that it meant the end of the road for well-liked goalie Jack Campbell. Murray was in; Campbell was out.
As a Goalie, Murray Had Fallen on Hard Times
Murray was once considered one of the NHL’s best goalies. However, the 28-year-old Murray had struggled over his last two seasons in Ottawa. Even when he was healthy, he seemed a shell of his former self.
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The Maple Leafs did their due diligence was done to check out Murray’s medical status as part of the trade; and, obviously, Murray passed. That said, because hockey is a physically-demanding game, injuries are likely to come. However, Murray was healthy when he came to Toronto.
The organization’s hope was that the contextual factors – the Maple Leafs being the Maple Leafs and the Senators being the Senators – would allow Murray to achieve more success in the Blue & White than in the Black & Red.
The experienced and successful Maple Leafs were not the rebuilding Senators. Murray would get more defensive support from the Maple Leafs’ high-powered offense and solid team defense than he did in Ottawa. The only question was whether Murray had lost his game totally. Many believed he had.
Murray’s Season with the Maple Leafs Thus Far
During the offseason, Murray readied himself for the season. He came into camp and had a solid preseason. Things were going well.
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In fact, after a preseason game when the Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 when head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked about Murray’s performance, he was effusive.
Keefe said, “I thought he (Murray) was just terrific all night long. Even on the goal that went in, he made the save. It was the rebound … I just thought he was really, really good. He was the highlight of the game for me.”
Then, in the regular-season opener against those same Canadiens, Montreal pulled out a surprise 4-3 victory. Murray wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great either. He saved 19 of 23 shots on the net.
As it turns out, that game was his last game of the season before he was injured in a routine practice skate.
Murray’s Injury and Rehab
After allowing four goals on 23 shots in his only game of the season, just minutes into a mid-October practice skate, Murray felt something. He consulted with goaltending coach Curtis Sanford and left the ice. It was later confirmed that he had suffered a groin injury.
All over Leafs’ Nation, there was a collective “here we go again.”
Murray went quiet until early November. On November 6, there was a report that Murray’s groin injury was “making progress” and that he was “probably ahead of schedule.” It was good news for the team because Murray’s goalie partner Ilya Samsonov had injured his knee trying to save a Brad Marchand penalty shot and was himself placed on injured reserve.
At that time, Murray’s prognosis was that he might be able to return to game action for a Friday game against his former team the Pittsburgh Penguins. But it didn’t happen; and, the team gave Murray a few more days to heal.
Murray’s Game Against the Penguins
Finally, after a month healing and rehabbing his adductor injury, Murray returned against the Penguins in Pittsburgh Tuesday night. He had a great game as his team won 5-2. In that game, Murray made 35 saves against the team with whom he had won back-to-back Stanley Cups earlier in his career.
Two of those goals came within a two-minute period when the Maple Leafs were put on their heels after making a number of turnovers. However, after that hiccup, Murray was sharp for the remainder of the game.
It was Murray’s first win in a Maple Leafs’ uniform. Although at that time the solid performance was a one-off, he looked every bit the goalie he used to be in his prime.
Against the Devils: Second-Straight Great Game
Last night against the surprising New Jersey Devils, Murray played his second straight outstanding game. He made 30 saves against a team that played exceptionally well. Although the Maple Leafs lost 3-2 in overtime, Murray was the reason his team even managed a point in the game.
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Sadly, because the team never controlled the puck in the overtime, instead of stealing two points Murray only was able to steal a single point. During the game, Murray made a number of extraordinarily good saves. One save in particular came against the Devils’ emerging star Jack Hughes early in the second period. Hughes drove across the crease on Murray, but Murray made a desperation save to stop a goal.
Murray’s Last Two Games Have Been Stellar
Murray has been a difference-maker against the last two teams he’s faced since he returned from his injury. As it stands, he’s played three games with the Maple Leafs thus far. Although it’s a small “N” to make any lasting decisions from; so far, so good.
At least for the time being, the Maple Leafs’ decision to bring him to Toronto as one of their goalies looks wise. Currently, Murray has a 1-1-1 record, with a goals-against-average of 3.02 and a save percentage of .903.
Obviously, success for Murray could soon change. But right now, Murray looks to be everything the team hoped he would be.
He has not been the problem for the team. He looks to be healed from his injury; and, he can stay healthy, the team might have found the goalie it needs to enjoy success over the entire season.
Maple Leafs’ fans can hope.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf