When Will Matt Murray Be Ready?

Is an AHL shutout record enough to bring Murray to the NHL sooner than later?

Is an AHL shutout record enough to bring Murray to the NHL sooner than later? (WBS Penguins)

By: Joe Guzy

In case you missed it, the Penguins’ 2012 3rd-round draft pick made some history last weekend. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender Matt Murray set a new American Hockey League record for longest shutout streak at 304:11, breaking the previous record of 268:17 by 35:54. Murray made 130 consecutive saves and had four consecutive shutouts along the way.

(WBS Penguins)

Full breakdown of Murray’s shutout streak. (WBS Penguins)

Murray is currently sitting at a .940 save percentage with 1.57 goals-allowed average. He’s 18-8-2 in the 30 games he’s played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season. With stats like that, the question for many is, “when?”

Marc-Andre Fleury is 30-years-old. Old to some, prime for others. Fleury is in the middle of one of his best seasons as well. He currently boasts a .925 save percentage with 2.14 goals-allowed average. But with two promising prospects in not just Matt Murray, but Tristan Jarry as well, it’s hard to not think about the future.

Unfortunately, predicting a goalie’s performance in the National Hockey League is already somewhat difficult, let alone making predictions from the AHL level.

For starters, the previous AHL shutout streak was held by former Abbotsford Heat goaltender Barry Brust. Drafted in 2002 by the Minnesota Wild, Brust would see his first shot at the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2006-2007 season. He appeared in 11 games and was the starter for seven (2-4-1) with a save percentage of .898 and 3.70 goals-allowed average. Brust played for other AHL, ECHL and international teams before one last run on this side of the Atlantic with Abbotsford Heat – one record setting season, until now.

On the other hand, former Chicago Blackhawk Antti Niemi immediately turned his transition to the National Hockey League into a Stanley Cup in just 61 games (39 regular season, 22 post-season). Niemi started in 35 AHL games (18-14-3) with a .910 save percentage and 2.43 goals-allowed average. Finishing his season in the NHL with the Blackhawks, he started in 37 games (26-7-4) with a .912 save percentage and 2.42 goals-allowed average. Niemi literally was able to translate his AHL numbers into NHL numbers, not to mention improve a little bit along the way. As seen during Monday night’s game, Niemi has had a good career in San Jose and is scheduled to hit free agency this summer.

For a more familiar case, here’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s chaotic journey to where he is now:

Er... uhh...

Er… uhh… let me try and explain all this…

Fleury has had an interesting journey to his current starting spot. Spending a season in the AHL during the lockout certainly gave him extra grooming time, but labeling his 2005-2006 campaign as “instant results” is a little farfetched. However, his lighter workload in 2007-2008 helped send the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final and then win it all the following season.

Still not seeing a trend?

Take a look at the last two Vezina Trophy winners: Tuukka Rask (2014) and Sergei Bobrovsky (2013). Both were thrown into the NHL as a starter for a season and then had their roles reduced to backups before their Vezina campaigns. In a rather scattered way, Marc-Andre Fleury’s success came in a similar fashion.

I apologize for not having a better background in advanced statistics pertaining to goaltending as I really haven’t painted a clear picture. Three extremely different stories tied together with some Vezina Trophy winners. I can say that Barry Brust’s record late in his career didn’t mean a second chance at the NHL. I can also say that Antti Niemi’s Stanley Cup ring didn’t mean a long and championship filled future with the San Jose Sharks.

However, when it comes to Fleury, Rask and Bobrovsky, three goalies that I think most would agree are “good,” simple grooming seemed to do the trick. All were “fed to the wolves” for a season, but nearly splitting the workload with an established starter seemed to do all of them a favor. Their second chance in front of “the wolves” proved much better for all of them.

As for Matt Murray? He probably won’t be thrown to the wolves. Same goes for Tristan Jarry. The Penguins currently have three goaltenders succeeding at an NHL, AHL and WHL level. No need to rush anything here. None of them are battling for their spots with their respective clubs. A few NHL games for Murray are probably in the near future as is some time in the AHL for Jarry.

Until then? Fleury has nine shutouts. Let’s ride this train for a little while longer before we have Murray board one to Pittsburgh.