GARRIOCH: Murray returns to Senators after month-long stint at Belleville

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There was a familiar face back on the ice with the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.

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Matt Murray was recalled from the club’s AHL branch in Belleville and skated with his Ottawa teammates at the Canadian Tire Center.

Murray, 27, who passed the waivers last month and was assigned to Belleville on Nov. 28 to prepare for his game, was brought back to Ottawa after goaltender Anton Forsberg was placed in protocol after testing positive for COVID-19 Monday.

Murray will not have the chance to face his former Pittsburgh Penguins teammates on Friday at 1 p.m. as that game has been officially postponed due to participation restrictions. The Senators’ next game is against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.

Substitute goalie Filip Gustavsson, who was placed on protocol last week, will be back on the ice on Wednesday after spending 10 days in isolation due to a positive test.

It was Murray’s first skate after completing a 10-day quarantine due to an outbreak in the Belleville room.

Murray, earning $ 6.25 million per season in the second season of a four-year contract extension he signed with the club after being traded to the Senators in October 2020, is happy to be back with his Ottawa teammates.

“I didn’t look at it as much as a reset as I saw it as something where I just had to keep going,” Murray said during a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday. “I had to keep building on the positives and I had to keep trying to toughen up my game and that’s what I feel like I did.

“It was a bit hectic with all the COVID-19 stuff that gets lost on you. I just tried to make the most of it.

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Sending Murray to Belleville didn’t work the way general manager Pierre Dorion, coach DJ Smith and goaltender coach Zac Bierk had wanted when they made the decision last month. He only played two games in the AHL because Belleville had a COVID-19 outbreak on a road trip.

Really, there’s nothing the Senators can do about it, and he’s had plenty of one-on-one time with Belleville goaltending coach Justin Peters. Murray finished 1-1-0 in both games he played with a .918 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average.

Dorion said now that Murray is back he will have the chance to play.

“We’re very happy to have Matt Murray back,” said Dorion. “To have a goalie of his caliber and what he’s done before, it’s great to find him. As DJ said earlier, we’re going to do everything we can to put him in a situation where he can be successful.

“Unfortunately we wanted him to go out there and have a lot of playing time, but he had a lot of practice time, so hopefully we can see this Matt Murray who won two cups and the Matt Murray who played well for us in the late last year.

Peters and Murray have a long relationship dating back to their teenage years. This made the move easier.

“We used to skate together when he was still playing and we had the same goalie coach,” said Murray. “I know him very well, which made the transition seamless. We had a lot of fun, we had a lot of really long chats about all kinds of things including the goalies of course.

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“It was great working with him and I can’t say enough good things about him. As a coach and as a person, I was really grateful to be able to spend time with him. “

Murray made 26 saves to register a 3-2 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on the road on December 12. It was his first AHL victory since the 2015-16 campaign, when he was with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins.

It was also Murray’s first professional victory since April 22 last season against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. He hasn’t earned a win in six NHL starts this season, going 0-5-0 with a 3.26 goals-against average and 0.890 save percentage.

He went to the AHL in the right frame of mind and worked hard while he was there.

“We all have a common goal here and that is to win hockey games,” said Murray. “My job is to keep the puck out of the net and I don’t have a lot of control over the other stuff. They tell me I’m going to Belleville, I’m going to Belleville, so I just have to take it in stride.

“I just had to think about what I wanted to get out of it. I’m super grateful for (Peters) and (Troy Mann) and these guys from Belleville.

Smith said the Senators want Murray to be successful.

“We just want him to start doing what he’s doing again,” Smith said. “Sometimes a mental break is better than just cooling off and restarting. The team will play better in front of him, we have to limit the chances and prepare him for some success.

“He’s going to have a few days of training here and he’ll be ready.”

Forsberg will have to do a 10-day quarantine and will not be eligible to join the Senators until they arrive in Vancouver next week to start a four-game swing in Western Canada.

[email protected]

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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