There’s been a lot of focus on the stars in this series and deservedly so when you’re talking about Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Evgeni Malkin. The star power has overshadowed the fact that two young goalies in Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and San Jose’s Martin Jones have successfully navigated their first postseason all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
In Game 1, we’ll get the first sign as to whether or not the biggest stage in hockey will be too much pressure for two goalies who had never started an NHL playoff game before this year.
The way both guys have played this spring, there’s every reason to believe both will continue to play well.
“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it,” said Murray, 22. “I’m definitely not oblivious to what’s going on. I don’t think overthinking it is going to help me more than not thinking about it. I just try to stay in the moment.”
Murray has been slightly better than Jones in this postseason, with a .924 save percentage compared to a .919 save percentage for Jones. But Jones has the added advantage of having experienced the Stanley Cup finals while backing up Jonathan Quick during the Los Angeles Kings‘ run in 2014. This will be Murray’s first finals appearance at any significant level of hockey.
We’ll get an early indication of how the Penguins penalty kill stacks up against the best power play of this postseason. Pittsburgh held a penalty-kill meeting Monday morning to break down how they’re going to defend against Brent Burns, Thornton, Pavelski and the rest of the high-powered Sharks power play that is converting at a rate of 27 percent.
“They can beat you with all five guys,” said Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy. “They play as a complete unit. They’re moving all over the place. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
The Penguins noticed just how frequently the Sharks shoot on the power play, especially Burns, who always thinks he has room to shoot and has one of the best shots in the game.
It also stood out to Penguins defenseman Ian Cole just how effective Pavelski is at getting quality shots off in small spaces.
“Pavelski is really good in that pocket, that middle guy, that rover guy,” Cole said. “The window he needs to get a shot off and get on net and have it be a good, hard shot in a corner is very, very small.”
The Penguins have already defeated a Tampa Bay Lightning power play that was going well with Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov. They also beat a power play that featured Alex Ovechkin, so they’re quietly confident they’ll be up to the task against San Jose.
Defenseman Olli Maatta‘s continued improvement will be important for the Penguins as they try to win a Stanley Cup without the injured Trevor Daley (broken ankle). After a slow start to the postseason, Maatta appears to be finding his game. He was a plus-4 in the Eastern Conference finals, although his even-strength possession numbers against Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula and Drouin in Game 7 weren’t particularly strong. He played the most against Palat at even strength (8:24) and the Penguins controlled just 25 percent of the shot attempts.
The expectation from his partner, Ben Lovejoy, is that Maatta’s smarts and skill will translate well against San Jose.
“He knows the play we’re supposed to make. He’s an incredibly smart player getting up the ice,” Lovejoy said. “He’s not a speedster, he’s not a burner that’s going to get up using his speed. He’s got that hockey sense where he knows when the opportunity is to jump. He creates his offense that way.”