If the Senators continue to receive the solid goaltending they’ve received of late from Forsberg and Matt Murray, Smith would be the Jack Adams winner. The club’s record is 5-2-2 over their past nine games – a stretch in which they’ve allowed only 14 goals.
Even better, the Senators are 12-7-3 since December 1.
A major reason for the team’s marked improvement is a renewed commitment to team defence. The penalty kill unit has risen from 22nd to 13th in NHL rankings during this period – giving up a paltry eight power-play markers over their past 65 kills.
As the saying goes, “a team’s best penalty killer is their goalie,” and full credit goes to Murray and Forsberg.
Murray’s time in Ottawa thus far has run the gamut. Acquired in October 2020 from the Pittsburgh Penguins, he immediately inked a four-year, $25 million contract.
His first season was filled with inconsistency; from a subpar start to a stellar finish. Much of the same could be said for this season – a poor opening, losing his first six decisions. Injuries and illness also plagued the 27-year old. And of course, there was being waived, followed up with an assignment to Belleville to find his game.
Murray played in only two games for the BSens, winning one, losing one, but a reunion of sorts with a personal friend, Belleville goalie coach Justin Peters seemed to light a fire in him upon his return to Ottawa.
“I have a really good relationship with “Petey” going back to when I was like 15, I think. We used to skate together. We had the same goalie coach, so I know “Petey” really well. We had a blast. We had lots of talks about things, obviously goaltending included. “Petey” was awesome to work with. He was a pleasure to work with. I can’t say enough good things about him as a coach, as a person. I’m really thankful to have the time to spend with him,” Murray said after being recalled by the Senators.
Last week Smith commented, the netminder “could’ve taken his ball and went home” after the Senators 3-2 overtime win versus Edmonton – adding that Murray is a true pro for battling back to where the team expected him to be after signing him in the first place.
The netminder himself, continually echoes there’s no difference in his game since re-joining his teammates. But the eye test says no.
He’s using all six-foot-four of his frame, edging out at the top of the crease, positionally straight to the shooter, not leaving gaps, utilizing his stick to break up plays, and swallowing the puck, allowing few rebounds.
The stats rein true – since going 0-6-0, Matt Murray hasn’t lost in regulation in seven games (5-0-2), possessing a 1.86 goals-against average, .944 save percentage – all gaudy numbers in a good way.
Forsberg has also amped up his game. There’s been a few blips along the way, but the 29-year-old has filled in admirably in his backup role. Forsberg is 7-4-1 over his last 12 starts and posted a five-game win string himself in December to boost the Senators out of their swoon.
Most career 40+ save wins by a goaltender in @Senators franchise history:
17- Craig Anderson
3- Anton Forsberg (Denying 42 of 45 shots in his team's 4-3 win vs the Hurricanes tonight)
3- Ray Emery
2- Brian Elliott
2- Robin Lehner
2- Andrew Hammond
2- Mike Condon
2- Anders Nilsson pic.twitter.com/vqnIUDdEdY
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 9, 2022
Consistent goaltending allows players to play a more confident style of game and not back on their heels.
Senators’ captain Brady Tkachuk said of the goalie tandem post-game Tuesday, “We’ve always had confidence in our goalies. We believe in them. They’ve been playing great for us. They’ve been our best players throughout this stretch of hockey. They keep us in games every night and they always make those timely saves.”
Moving forward, the team will continue to need great performances from Matt Murray and Forsberg as the revamped schedule has them playing 40 games over the next 78 days – even more so due to the absences of key figures Drake Batherson and Josh Norris.
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