The Pittsburgh Penguins are expected to contend year in and year out, but they’ve stumbled over the first month of the season to a 6-4-3 record, 7th in the East. They still boast a top-notch offense, scoring the third most goals in the NHL, but their defense is letting them down. Many will point at Matt Murray and his .886 save percentage as the biggest factor in their struggles, but that poor number is a result of shoddy defense by the Pens.
The Penguins do a horrid job protecting the most high-danger area on the ice, the inner slot. As a result, Murray is facing 9.78 inner slot shots per game. To put this into context, Anaheim ranks 31st in the NHL and allows 9.2 inner slot shots per game. No matter how good your goaltending is, no one can stop this many point-blank shots each and every game.
Despite numbers that look terrible at first glance (.886 save %, 3.87 GAA) Murray has actually been decent given the kind of barrage he’s facing every time he steps on the ice. In fact, his actual to expected goals clocks in at an even 0, meaning he stopped exactly what the average goalie is expected to perform facing this kind of barrage, ironically tied at 36th with Marc-André Fleury among the 52 goalies who played 200+ minutes.
The Penguins expect Murray to be better than just average, but until they show some sort of defensive effort, it’s going to be an uphill battle every night just to keep the score from ballooning over three goals every night. The Penguins always have the offensive firepower to cover up these flaws in the regular season, but flaws this glaring always come back to haunt teams come playoff time
(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)