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A Graphical Representation Of Matt Murray’s Evolution

Matt Murray has shown exceptional growth through his young career. In his first five career games, he posted 2-2-1 record. However, he immediately went 7-0-0 to close the 2015-2016 season for the Penguins. This sharp change caught most of the NHL off guard, as the Penguins steamrolled their way to a Stanley Cup Championship that season.

He continued to grow as he was the unofficial starter during the 2016-2017 season. Starting 47 games, Murray won 32 games and lost 14 (4 in overtime/shootout). That season, he finished with a 92.3% save percentage and 2.41 goals against average (GAA). Though his numbers weren’t as elite as we expected them to be, he did have a 14.48 goals saved above average (GSAA). Murray performed better than most goaltenders during the 2016-2017 season. That showed as he helped boost the Penguins to their fifth championship.

However, his growth seemed to stutter during the 2017-2018 season. Plagued with injuries and personal problems, he still started 45 games and posted a 27-16-3 record. He had a career low save percentage of 90.7% and a poor GAA of 2.92. This lack of growth showed as he had a -8.11 GSAA during the season. His performance that season was poorer than what we expected, though he still managed to win games.

This season, Murray has been on and off. After a thrilling come from behind victory against the Anaheim Ducks, he improved his record to 13-5-1 in 20 games started. With a 91.4% save percentage and a 2.85 GAA, at first glance it may seem that Murray is struggling this season, but he is currently on a personal-best 9 game win streak. He had a very shaky start to the season and was injured in November. After returning from injured reserve, Murray has been an elite goaltender.

Beyond basic statistics, it would be beneficial to look at his trends over the seasons. The first trend we’ll look at is his overall save percentage.

During his 2015 season, Murray showed a rare trend for young goalies: an increasing save percentage. Other than one “bad” game, he posted 2 shutouts and had an increasing average save percentage. To corroborate this data, let’s look at a heat map of where Murray faced shots from.

As we can see here, Murray faced shots primarily near his net. Every goaltender has this heavy density of shots as tips and rebound attempts are plentiful in today’s league. However, as we continue to move away from the net, we see opponents targeted his right side more than his left. This could be due to the Penguins defense scheme or the fact that Murray has a weaker reaction to shots towards his glove hand on the right side. This heat map does not show exactly where Murray gave up goals. However, it shows us a likelihood of a shot going in. This likelihood allows us to generalize the offense he goes up against. Let’s continue to analyze him by looking at the next season: 2016-2017.

Unlike his 2015-2016 campaign, Murray has a more flat or neutral trend in his save percentage. While it did slightly tail off near the end of the season, Murray showed some basis of consistency through the entire season. Let’s also take a look at his shot location heat map for that season:

Peppered with shots, Murray showed weakness near the net like all goaltenders. Murray continued to show prowess from almost everywhere on the ice except for near the high circles. Murray’s weakness spread from just his right side to now both his left and right side. This weakness was tested many times, but he still won games. Let’s see his trends for the next season.

Similar to his debut season, Murray had an increasing trend in his save percentage. Though this increase is very minor, it still shows sign of growth during the season. Let’s see if this increasing trend is supported by his heat map.

Just like every goaltender, Murray’s main weakness was against tips and rebounds. However, unlike his previous season, he played well against high circle shots. However, a new weakness showed up: low slot and low circle shots. This type of weakness is normal for young goaltenders. A more seasoned goaltender, like Murray’s predecessor and mentor Marc-Andre Fleury, shows exceptional skill with shots from these areas due to sheer experience. However, Murray only had Fleury as a mentor for a little over a year. Now that Murray is on his own, he must develop more from coaching. Let’s see if this weakness still carries over into the current 2018-2019 season.

Early in the season, Murray struggled heavily with just stopping shots. However, once he returned from injury reserve in December, he has been phenomenal. Let’s see if his heat map shows any changes in his strengths and weaknesses.

Compared to previous seasons, Murray seems to be improving with shots close to the net. Though this improvement is small, it shows that he is learning and growing his game. Additionally, there is no longer a weakness with shots near the low slot and low circles. This weakness has actually become a strength for him. His growth, however, has led to the re-emergence of his weakness near the high circles. Though it is apparent on both sides, Murray seems to have more trouble with shots coming from his right side now, not his left. This could either be accounted to bad luck (his start to the season), or teams picking corners against him. Nevertheless, I expect as the season goes on, this weakness will start to subside.

All in all, Murray has shown major improvement compared to his debut season. Though he has battled through injuries, I believe that a healthy Matt Murray is a stone wall for the Penguins. His quiet demeanor, as well as sound movement in the net, allow him to be a calming influence for the Penguins’ defensive core. His continued weakness through his young career seems to still be his glove hand, but there has been constant improvement of it over the years. With time, I strongly believe that Murray will emerge as a consistent elite goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sasank is a student at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in computer science and minoring in business. He is a huge hockey and baseball fan, but also enjoys following the Steelers and Spurs on the side. His passion lies in applying machine learning to sports analytics. As a mentor in the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Sports Analytics Club, Sasank does sports analytics research on hockey in order to bring more clarity to skater and goaltender performance. He can be reached on Twitter at @_svish.