It’s an incredible story but one that has somehow crept under the hockey radar for the most part.
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending prospect, Matt Murray, set an American Hockey League record by extending his shutout streak to 304 minutes and 11 seconds, taking him past Barry Brust, who had only just beaten Johnny Bower’s record in recent years.
He’s made an incredible beginning to his professional career in his rookie season, a start that must be unexpected in most quarters after a fluctuating spell in the junior game.
Murray was drafted by Sault. Ste. Marie in the second round (35th overall) of the 2008 OHL Priority Draft and made just 22 starts in the 2010/11 season as his Greyhound team finished last in the West Division.
He would begin the following year as the starter but lost his place to Dallas prospect Jack Campbell, who had come in via a trade in November.
After winning nine of his first 13 starts, Murray did not win a game in four November starts would only win four more games that season, with his confidence shaken. The irony of that now is that Campbell himself has had his struggles with the Dallas organisation and is currently trying to find his game in the ECHL after being usurped by Jussi Rynnas.
Murray was Pittsburgh’s third-round pick (83rd) in the 2012 NHL draft and really came into his own in his last two years of junior. Sault. Ste. Marie finished second and first in the West Division during that time, although there wasn’t much success in the playoffs that followed. After the second of those playoff exits, Murray joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh AHL affiliate) and garnered his first action in the professional game.
Almost exactly eleven months ago now, Murray made his AHL debut for WBS against Utica, making 23 saves in a 2-0 loss. He then went on to make a third period relief appearance in the Eastern Conference Final, with Peter Manino pulled after allowing five goals. He would shut the door, stopping all eight shots though WBS still lost game three of the series 5-0.
Roll forward to this season and Murray began by recording a shutout in just his second game and followed that up by blanking St. Johns IceCaps in his tenth outing.
His play was up and down as you might expect from a rookie, until the new year however, when he began 2015 with a shutout on January 2.
January would see a second duck egg, a 5-2 record and 1.55GAA despite being pulled at the months end, after allowing three goals in twelve shots.
As if that wasn’t enough, what followed was a remarkable run of form which eventually lead to his breaking the shutout record. Allowing one goal in two starts at the beginning of February before recording four straight shutouts, only seeing his streak broken with a heart breaking 1:11 to play in the third period against the Falcons in Springfield. His four consecutive shutouts were recorded against Portland Pirates, Providence Bruins, Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Manchester Monarchs respectively.
Murray’s nine shutouts this season ties the AHL’s mark by a rookie and it would have been ten for a new record barring the late goal in Springfield.
Blazing a trail, the rookie net minder leads the AHL in GAA, SV%, and unsurprisingly, shutouts.
His record of 19-8-2-1 is a big reason why WBS sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, pretty much nailed on for a post-season berth.
Murray has formed a good tandem with 27 year Jeff Zatkoff, who appears to be a good mentor for the young man, despite having the look of a career AHL’er about him.
With Thomas Griese currently occupying the number two slot in the Penguins organisation, if Murray continues to improve he could be a regular NHL player sooner than later if the start to his career stay’s on an upward curve.
A big and tall (6”4) netminder, the Thunder Bay native has an athletic style that isn’t always pretty to watch but he’s definitely showing a level of maturity and composure of a player beyond his tender years.
He has lots to work on, as does any young goaltender but he’s made an impressive start to his professional career and left his mark on the AHL already.