When the Ottawa Senators acquired Matt Murray this past offseason, they expected more than what they ultimately got out of the two-time Stanley Cup champion this season. Injuries, inconstancy, and just an overall lack of confidence have left the Senators relying on their young talent too much this season.
But even after the rough start to the season, Murray has stepped up to become the kind of goaltender the Senators paid for. Whether it’s because of his time recovering from an injury, or a new goalie coach, Murray has re-established his potential and is going to be the key to the Senators’ rebuild.
A Timely Turnaround
Murray returned on April 1, after a three-week stint on the injured reserve. It was an upper-body injury that cost the Senators their start goaltender. Prior to his return, for his season until March 14, Murray posted a 7-12-1 record with a save percentage of .880.
Since his return, he’s posted a 3-1-0 record with save percentage of .957. After a season of mid-game goalie substitutions, Murray is also playing a full 60 minutes. Murray has recorded two shutouts, and three wins in his last total three games.
Although his first shutout of the season came on April 17 against Montreal only on 23 shots, his second shutout on April 22 against the Vancouver Canucks came on 31 shots against.
The blowout level six or seven goals against that Murray dealt with at some points earlier this season, seem, for the most part, to be behind him. His recent stats show a much different version of Murray. He looks like a completely different goalie than what he looked like earlier this season.
A New Goalie Coach
Earlier this month, the Senators general manager Pierre Dorion announced in a press release that they have hired Zac Bierk as a new goaltender coach. The release also announced that they have reassigned former goaltender coach Pierre Groulx, to a scouting and development role. Bringing to his role as goaltender coach, Bierk has NHL goaltending experience for himself. He was drafted No. 212 overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bierk would go on to play for the Lightning, the Minnesota Wild and the Phoenix Coyotes.
He ended his NHL career in 2003-04, where Bierk finished his with 47 games with a 9-20-5 record. He also finished with a 3.18 goals-against average and a save percentage of .901. Bierk also spent two seasons as a development coach with the Arizona Coyotes, where he worked in goaltending prospect development.
Bierks’s extensive experience may be the key to Murray finding his footing again. He’s looking like the goaltender that people saw in Pittsburgh. Playing well can come because of adjustments, but it’s also just about feeling comfortable and finding someone to work with that makes you comfortable. Players meet the right coach that helps you re-discover what you once had, and it can make a huge difference on your performance.
The Senators’ front office realizing the missing puzzle piece to their development and hidden abilities, and that a person may have to step in and take control of that coaching role, shows they’re serious about rebuilding their team. Bierk’s influence on Murray is a glimpse of what he can do for the many younger goalies the Senators have in their system.
The move may have been the most impactful factor on Murray re-discovering his abilities to be a solid goaltender. It is not a confidence that the change in goaltender coach, has resulted in a change in Murray’s performance, which also has resulted in the Senators overall success, who have won three of their last four games.
Needs to Stay Healthy
Although the Senators have had a disappointing season this year, Murray remains to be a big part of the Senators’ future. Strong and steady goaltending is the key to the development of the rest of Ottawa’s relatively young team. Murray needs to fill that void of solid goaltending in front of the net to give the rest of the Senators team to showcase their talented young lineup.
But he can only be that presence if he remains healthy. In the Senators game against the Vancouver Canucks on April 24, Anton Forsberg was supposed to start, but Murray had to step in after an injury to Forsberg. Murray looked steady until he left in the second period after taking a tripping penalty to Jake Virtanen. Murray was replaced by Marcus Högberg. Although it’s unclear the extent of Murray’s injury, or even if it is a serious injury, Murray leaves behind, a rhythm and confident presence in front of the net. This hiccup for Murray may impact the way the Senators finish the season.
With only eight remaining in the Senators’ schedule, if Murray’s healthy, it’s a chance for him to have a season turnaround and end the season on a good note with confidence to optimize his role as starting goaltender next season.
Covering the Ottawa Senators here at The Hockey Writers. I am a journalism graduate student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. I previously covered University of Toronto Varsity Blues hockey.