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Senators coach singles out goaltending as Matt Murray s woes continue - Sportsnet.ca

Senators coach singles out goaltending as Matt Murray s woes continue - Sportsnet.ca
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Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith says his club deserved better against the Sharks, says their goalie made the saves and we need someone to take the net and start winning us some games, and "steal one for us probably."

November 25, 2021, 11:29 AM

Coaches will go to extreme measures to protect their last line of defence -- their goaltender.

A goalie can give up a softie, but if it originated from a turnover at centre ice, a coach will tell reporters, “we can’t turn over the puck there.”

Only when frustration boils over to a point where he can’t take it any more does a coach turn on his goalie in a public forum.

For head coach D.J. Smith and the Ottawa Senators , that moment was Wednesday night (Thursday morning in the east) after Matt Murray gave up four goals on 27 shots as the Senators lost their ninth game in the past 10. Two empty-netters made a very even game seem lopsided, 6-3. The shots were even, 29 apiece.

Smith wasn’t even asked about his goaltending. He went off anyway. Last straw time.

“We deserved better, a point or two,” Smith said. “The difference tonight was probably their goaltending.”

He was just getting started. When the team’s colour analyst, Gord Wilson, asked Smith about getting back to to work today, to “work on the details,” Smith shot back: “I didn’t mind our details. I just think we’ve got to get someone to take the net and start to win us some games when we give that effort. We need someone to get in there and hold us right now.

“We’re a young team that needs someone to steal one for us, probably,” Smith said.

If that outburst was cathartic for the coach, it also expressed the sentiment of the fan base in Ottawa.

A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins, Murray has been a colossal bust since joining the Senators in the fall of 2020 via trade from Pittsburgh. The pandemic delayed the start of the 2020-21 season until January.

Murray was awful to start the season, the Senators quickly fell out of contention in the temporary North Division, and the organization was so concerned about getting Murray right again, they fired their goaltending coach Pierre Groulx in mid-season, replacing him with Zac Bierk.

Murray got hurt, and then was placed into a kind of personal goalie-training camp -- his time off extended so he could work on the fundamentals of his game. It seemed to help. Murray rebounded to finish the season strong, although the games were meaningless with Ottawa

so far from a playoff spot. Murray won three of his last four starts, two of them by shutout.

In training camp this fall, Murray was talked up as though the problems were over.

But the Murray-isms continued. He got sick with a non-COVID-19 virus that was running through the team during the pre-season. He came back but was still probably not at 100 per cent. Then Murray was injured yet again, this time after lunging forward for a puck only to bang his head on Chris Kreider’s knee.

When he came back from that, Murray tested positive for COVID-19, one of 10 Senators players stricken. Cleared to return to the team, Murray was on the ice for the first practice, last Saturday, but barely took the net, with Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg getting most of the work.

When the Senators returned to action after a week off to recover from COVID, it was Gustavsson, Ottawa’s most reliable goalie this year, who stared down 39 Colorado shots in a wild 7-5 loss in Denver.

Losing can never be pinned on one player, or one goalie. Murray hasn’t played enough to get the blame most nights, but isn’t that the point?

He was supposed to grab the net and hold it months ago, but has never been able to. General manager Pierre Dorion bet heavily on Murray, handing him a four-year, $25-million contract at the time he was acquired. And in the 13-plus months Murray has been here, he has never gotten into the kind of rhythm that builds faith.

This year’s Murray line is a nightmare: 0-5 record (tied for 69th in the league), a 3.27 goals-against (43rd) and .890 save percentage (tied 43rd). If Murray was a backup or a third-stringer, that would be one thing.
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