Four things we learned in the NHL: Murray worth watching

James Reimer's injury allowed Jonathan Bernier to make the surprise Wednesday start after a disappointing Tuesday performance, and the beleagured starter may have benefitted from the limited preparation.

The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a win in the back-end of a back-to-back, Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel displayed his fantastic hands despite dropping a tough game to the Washington Capitals, while the New York Rangers downed the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Here are four things we learned in the NHL on Tuesday.

Matt Murray throws himself onto the national scene: If you hadn’t heard of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray prior to Wednesday’s performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs, you weren’t alone.

Heck, Jake Gardiner admitted as much after the game.

However, the 21-year-old netminder stole the show even in a shootout loss, making 34 saves on 36 shots, including a few highlight-reel stops in the process in just his fourth NHL game.

Murray may not be a household name to the average NHL fan (or defenceman for that matter) but he’s certainly a well known commodity in some hockey circles, as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted out this fascinating tidbit during Wednesday’s game.

His AHL numbers stood out as well, posting a .938 save percentage and a 1.84 goals-against average with Scranton-Wilkes Barre this season.

Hockey fans better get to know Murray quickly.

Capitals take over Presidents Trophy race: The Florida Panthers have drawn plenty of attention during their recent surge, but the hottest team in the NHL remains the Washington Capitals.

The Metropolitan Divison leaders rallied back to beat the Buffalo Sabres to win their ninth game in a row and, in the process, jumped the Dallas Stars to take the No. 1 spot in the NHL standings.

Washington is the complete package right now. They have tremendous depth across the roster, as evidenced by their Eastern Conference lead in goals, fantastic play in net, and stable play across the blue-line.

Head coach Barry Trotz has done a heck of a job in his two seasons with the club.

Jonathan Bernier wins back some respect: Bernier has taken a beating in the media this year and that’s sort of understandable given his struggles on the ice with the Maple Leafs.

So if my colleagues are going to rip him when he plays poorly, I feel we need to give him his proper due when he plays as well as he did against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

Bernier did a fantastic job for Toronto, making 39 saves on 41 shots, just one night after a rough outing in which he was pulled after two periods for allowing six goals on 15 shots.

The Maple Leafs will need more nights like this from Bernier going forward as James Reimer isn’t ready to take over the starter’s job quite yet.

Reimer had a setback earlier in the day — experiencing tightness after briefly appearing in Tuesday night’s game — and his timeline to return to the ice remains unclear.

Cory Schneider deserves more attention: Yeah, I know. This is a goalie-heavy edition of this feature but how could we not praise Cory Schneider after the New Jersey netminder recorded his third shutout of the season, a 36-save effort in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Schneider doesn’t get much attention league-wide because he plays for a rather non-descript team but the American goaltender has been one of the league’s most consistent players over the last three seasons.

The 29-year-old is on pace for a save percentage in the high .920’s for the third year in a row and has yet to post a goals-against average larger than 2.26 since he was dealt from Vancouver to the Devils.

Schneider is making a legitimate case for Vezina trophy consideration and we should all appreciate his stable level of production.

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