Assuming he recovers from a non-COVID-19 illness, goalkeeper Matt Murray is expected to start Thursday for the Ottawa Senators in a very familiar spot against a very familiar side.
Murray, who came off the Senators’ 3-1 loss to Buffalo at home on Tuesday, is likely to travel to his native team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the first time since he traded with the Senators in October 2020.
Murray helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup before falling out of his place as the team’s goalkeeper. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had not returned to that city since the trade.
“I know it’s definitely going to be very moving,” Murray told Post-Gazette. “It’s not something I’ve been through before, but I’m looking forward to it. I look forward to seeing everyone and going back to a place where I had so many good memories.”
Technically a rookie player in both cup competitions, in 2016 and 2017, Murray chose to stick with Murray and revealed goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury in an expansion draft in Vegas.
But Murray did not resume that level of play as No. 1 for the full season, which resulted in Tristan Jarry scoring the lead in the net with Pittsburgh.
Things weren’t great in Ottawa either. Last season, Murray struggled, including his 893 job drop. When his game of the season didn’t come, he was waived in November and sent to Belleville from the NHL for a month.
Called up, Murray held 60 of his 65 shots in wins in Calgary and Edmonton last week.
Without Murray on Tuesday, the Senators saw their two-game winning streak interrupt despite scoring 44 shots in the season.
Ottawa coach DJ Smith said the team “hopes” Murray will be available on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has a great deal of confidence after a six-game road trip, mostly on the West Coast. The Penguins were 4-2-0, and while they talked about their instability in a few of those games, they finished the match on brilliance.
On Monday in Vegas, the Penguins erased a three-goal deficit early to come back for a 5-3 win.
“That was huge for us,” said defender Mike Matheson.
Coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins were able to “reclaim our identity,” adding, “I hope it gives our team great confidence in our abilities.”
Not only have Pittsburgh racked up eight of their potential 12 points on that flight, but the Penguins have won 13 of their last 15 games.
In addition, they are just as close as they have been all season to being in full health after a string of injuries and the absence of COVID-19. During the road trip, second-line center Yevgeny Malkin returned from off-season knee surgery, and fellow top six forward Brian Rust and Jason Zucker returned from the COVID-19 protocol.
The only Pittsburgh players still out as the trip ended were wingers Zach Aston Reese and Danton Heinen, along with goalkeeper Casey Dessmith. They returned on Wednesday to give the Penguins their first full practice session of the season.