When it comes to the playoffs experience is always something that will be a major talking point, and it doesn't matter what sport it is. Who has it, who doesn't, why it matters, why it could hurt the team that doesn't have it. It's one of those things that is often looked at as an important element, and there are certainly moments where being around longer than your opponent and seeing more situations can help. But at the end of the day it still mostly comes down to talent.
That brings us to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks and one of the most unique goaltending matchups in recent Stanley Cup history. Let's be honest about this: Matt Murray (Pittsburgh) vs. Martin Jones (San Jose) is probably not the goaltending matchup you would have picked for this series at the start of the season.
Or even at the start of April.
If you're looking for experience, these guys do not really have it. At least when compared to pretty much every other Stanley Cup Final matchup over the past two decades.
Jones, who spent two years backing up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, was finally given a chance to be a regular starter this season when the Sharks acquired him over the summer from the Boston Bruins for a first-round draft pick (this was just days after the Bruins acquired Jones from the Kings in the Milan Lucic trade). Entering the postseason he had just 99 games of regular experience in his NHL career, with this year being his first as a full-time starter. It was a bit of a gamble to not only trade a high pick for a guy that had never been a regular starter, but to also give him a three-year, $9 million contract. It is has proven to be a gamble that has paid off.
In the Pittsburgh net, Murray has been an even bigger surprise. A third-round draft pick by the team in 2012, Murray has been viewed as the Penguins' goaltender of the future for about two years now. Until the end of March, he was serving as the top backup for long-time starter Marc-Andre Fleury. But when Fleury was sidelined in late March with his second concussion of the year, Murray took over as the starter and he has not looked back ever since with a .924 save percentage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. When the playoffs began, he had appeared in just 13 regular season games. That means when you combine Murray and Jones career game totals together, they had just 112 games of NHL experience at the start of the playoffs.
Now they are meeting in the Stanley Cup Final.
How does that level of experience measure up to recent Stanley Cup Final goalie matchups?
Here is a look at the 10 matchups since 1996 with the fewest total regular season games between them when that playoff run started. The Murray-Jones matchup of 2016 clearly stands out above the rest.
|Year||Goalie Matchup||Total Regular Season Games At Time|
|2016||Matt Murray and Martin Jones||112|
|2010||Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton||140|
|2013||Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask||290|
|1998||Chris Osgood and Olaf Kolzig||356|
|2006||Cam Ward and Dwayne Roloson||359|
|2015||Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop||379|
|2007||J.S. Giguere and Ray Emery||456|
|2004||Nikolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff||561|
|2003||Martin Brodeur and J.S. Giguere||847|
|2008||Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood||883|
The goalie matchup with the most experience came in 2000-01 when the Colorado Avalanche faced the New Jersey Devils and had Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur in net. Together, they had played in 1,422 regular season games when that playoff run started. Five other matchups over the past 20 years had more than 1,000 games of experience between them, with most of them involving some combination of Roy, Brodeur, Ed Belfour or Dominik Hasek in one of the nets.
When you look at individual goalies and their level of experience, only five of the starters over the past 20 years had less than 100 games of regular season experience when they started their final. The list includes only Murray and Jones this year, as well as Antti Niemi for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Ray Emery for the Ottawa Senators in 2007, and Cam Ward for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
The amazing thing about that list is current Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford held the same position for the Hurricanes in 2006 when Ward, who had started just 28 regular season games, took over as the team's starting goaltender and went into the playoffs with only 28 games of regular season experience. They ended up winning the Stanley Cup that year. He could be watching it happen again this season.