Penguins’ Biggest Playoff Concerns Should Be Goaltending & Defense

The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost four of their last five games in which Tristan Jarry started between the pipes. Casey DeSmith has shown promise but has leaps and bounds to go before being considered a strong second choice.

Tristan Jarry Penguins
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After dropping the last two games to their prospective first-round opponent, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh’s goalie tandem needs to be fully prepared to endure an onslaught of offensive pressure in the playoffs. Jarry is having a career season as the starting netminder with 33 wins, but can he continue this valiant effort beyond the regular season?

Penguins’ Success Depends on Jarry

Goaltending is the ‘make-or-break’ factor for many teams in the playoffs. While Jarry has posted a career 33-15-6 record with an impressive .921 save percentage (SV%) this season, his playoff résumé is overshadowed by his regular-season success. The Penguins have failed to make a decent playoff run during Jarry’s tenure as the starting goalie; he has a 2-5 record in seven postseason games.

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Pittsburgh has been spoiled with Stanley Cup-caliber goaltenders in recent years, but Jarry has yet to play up to the level of his predecessors. In the 2019 Playoffs, he cost the Penguins handsomely by turning over the puck that led to a nasty double-overtime loss against the New York Islanders. That slip-up cost them their playoff run, which has since weighed on him and has added to the general debate of whether he’s truly prepared to chase the Stanley Cup yet, or not.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins’ most daunting challenge will be an imminent first-round rematch with the New York Rangers. These final few weeks of regular season play saw the Penguins fall to the Rangers not twice but three times. In those games, Jarry posted a respective .833, .885, and .913 SV% while allowing 11 goals. Frankly, those numbers could result in a first-round sweep if he fails to turn his play around.

Danny Shirey of DK Sports shed some light on Jarry’s recent struggles as the season has progressed. The issue is not so much his ability to make a save but his ability to perform under pressure. As the Penguins’ schedule has fluctuated, he has shown some vulnerabilities versus powerhouse teams. Since March 25, he is 0-5 against playoff-bound squads, and those five losses came against the Rangers and the Colorado Avalanche, two teams poised to make a deep run this season.

Penguins’ Goalies Lack Depth, Defensive Assistance

One of the most important pieces to a successful playoff run is access to those netminders that management trusts to get the job done. As opposed to years ago when the Penguins held perhaps the most dominant goalie tandem in the league (with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray), Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are a different story. Jarry’s subpar playoff record speaks for itself, and DeSmith has yet to make his NHL postseason debut.

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Jarry has posted a sub-.900 SV% in recent weeks, and that should be alarming for head coach Mike Sullivan. It’s unlikely that DeSmith gets the starting call this postseason, but considering Jarry’s shortcomings against the Rangers, some changes may be in order. DeSmith also broke the Penguins out of their four-game losing stretch with a bounce-back win against the Nashville Predators on Sunday afternoon, a feat that surely did not go unnoticed.

Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Pittsburgh Penguins Casey DeSmith
Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty shoots on Pittsburgh Penguins Casey DeSmith. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Additionally, defensive efforts will surely have to increase tenfold if the Penguins wish to advance past the Rangers. Not only has their goaltending struggled to find its footing as of late, but their back-end has suffered as well, although, captain Sidney Crosby, as well as a few other impactful players, were absent from the 3-0 loss to the Rangers. However, the team’s overall defensive sloppiness and lousy goaltending are things the Penguins desperately need to clean up in order to avoid yet another embarrassing early-round exit.

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