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Penguins goalie Matt Murray points finger at his glove hand

October 3, 2018

The Penguins’ Matt Murray makes a third-period save against the Sabres Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

This is the fourth in a five-part series leading up to the Penguins’ season opener Thursday.

Matt Murray has a message for all those armchair goaltenders who think his glove hand was a weakness that was just killing the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

He agrees.

In his first two seasons as an NHL goalie, Murray posted a .925 save percentage and won a pair of Stanley Cup championships. Last season, his save percentage was .907, and the Penguins bowed out of the playoffs in the second round.

To get back to his previous heights, Murray realized he’d have to make improvements. He worked on all facets of the position over the summer but focused on shoring up his glove hand and five-hole in particular.

Now, as the Penguins prepare to open the regular season Thursday night against the Washington Capitals, Murray and backup Casey DeSmith have been taking the ice before practice almost every day to work with goalie coach Mike Buckley on their glove hands.

“Everybody has their weaknesses,” Murray said. “I think leaguewide, if a guy is wide open, he tends to shoot glove side about 40 percent of the time. I think that’s the number. It’s where shooters like to go. You’ve got to be really tight up there.”

So how, exactly, does Murray expect to clean up that portion of his game? A goalie either has the quick-twitch reaction time and hand-eye coordination to have a good glove hand or he doesn’t, right?

Nope.

“I would say reactions are a much, much smaller part of goaltending than people think,” said DeSmith, who said he feels his glove hand is the weakest part of his game, as well. “Positioning is really important. If you put yourself in good position, the net isn’t so big where the shooter will have much to shoot at. If you just get to a spot and just make a simple butterfly, you’ll make a lot of saves.

“You won’t make every save. You won’t be the best goalie in the league. But it would be pretty shocking for people to see just how little there is to shoot at if you went down and looked from the perspective of the puck. When a goalie is challenging and in a butterfly, there’s really not much to shoot at.”

When it comes to covering the bottom of the net in a butterfly, the 6-foot-4 Murray’s height is a blessing. When it comes to glove-hand positioning, it can work against him. If he’s not careful, his glove can be too high, protecting the crossbar or the back glass. If he overcompensates and drops the glove too low, he’s protecting an area that’s already covered by his left pad.

It’s a matter of finding the sweet spot and, through repetition, letting muscle memory take its course.

“That’s like everything, I think. You want to get it ingrained so you’re not thinking about it,” Murray said. “The last thing you want to do in a game is think. There’s no time out there.”

Proper positioning and repetition in practice won’t stop every shot, of course. With world-class players moving laterally to change their shooting angles and net-front traffic obscuring the goalie’s vision, every puck that comes Murray’s way is a bundle of variables.

His goal is to control what he can in an effort to return to heights only he has reached.

“Position of your glove is huge, and also position of your body and your feet relative to the puck. It all goes into it,” Murray said. “We try to be technically sound. If you can be in the right position and have pucks hit you, that’s what you want to do.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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