The Pittsburgh Penguins had one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray leading the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Only three years removed, both have left the organization. Fleury joined the Vegas Golden Knights via the expansion draft, while Murray was dealt to the Ottawa Senators during the 2020 Entry NHL Draft. The 2020-21 NHL season is underway, and goaltenders Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith will need to be at their best.
With a condensed 56-game schedule, having a strong goaltending duo will be a necessity for teams to succeed. Both Jarry and DeSmith have played under head coach Mike Sullivan, so there are familiarity and trust, which is always important in a coach/goalie relationship.
The Penguins have emphasized the importance of drafting and developing goaltenders, shown by general manager Jim Rutherford’s recent picks in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Rutherford selected goalies Joel Blomqvist in the second round and Calle Clang in the third round, solidifying depth at the position for the long run. Although Blomqvist and Clang will not make an impact at the NHL level for the next few seasons, they are solid prospects and could be used as trade pieces.
Goalie coach Mike Buckley has proven to be valuable to the Penguins, as he has done a great job in developing goaltenders within the organization. Murray, Jarry, and DeSmith have developed tremendously under his guidance. Buckley, a native of Massachusetts, recently signed a two-year contract extension to remain in Pittsburgh.
Jarry Looking to Build on All-Star Season
After having an All-Star 2019-20 season, Jarry is now the man in the Penguins’ net. He posted a 20-12-1 record with a 2.43 goals-against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%), both ninth-best in the league. Before the 2019-20 season, Jarry spent time in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where he took massive strides in his development. His calm demeanor and confidence have been on display during training camp, as he looks to have taken another step forward in his play.
One aspect of Jarry’s game that is overlooked is his ability to play the puck. One of the best puck-handling goalies in the league, his presence is felt by his defensemen. When facing teams with a strong forecheck such as the Boston Bruins or the Washington Capitals, having a goaltender that can play the puck is an advantage that cannot be taken lightly. Instead of defensemen having to constantly battle in the corners or behind the net after dump-ins, Jarry is able to make quick passes to get the puck out of danger.
At 25-years-old, Jarry is under contract until the end of the 2022-23 season. After stealing the starting job from Murray last season, he is ready to backstop his team. For so many years, it was Fleury. After his departure, the Penguins thought they had their long term starting goaltender in Murray. Now it is Jarry who will lead the way between the pipes.
DeSmith Ready to Be Back in the NHL
After playing his college hockey at the University of New Hampshire, DeSmith’s road to the NHL has been a journey. His professional career began in the 2015-16 season where he played with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. He then spent two seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, before he was called up to the NHL during the 2017-18 season. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, DeSmith played in 50 NHL games, posting a 2.66 GAA and a .917 SV%.
After being jumped in the depth chart by Jarry, DeSmith spent the 2019-20 season back in the AHL, where he started 41 games. He has proven to be a capable backup, and the Penguins will need him to continue to perform this season.
As he looks ahead to solidify himself as an NHL goaltender, DeSmith will be leaned on to win big games. With games against the same seven teams all season, including strong opponents such as the Flyers, Bruins, and Capitals, every point will be extremely valuable.
Opportunity Calls for Depth Goaltenders
Maxime Legace will look to cement himself as the third option behind Jarry and DeSmith. Legace had a stellar 2019-20 season with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, where he posted a 22-7-5 record, and a .919 SV%. Over his past three AHL seasons, Legace has a combined record of 52-22-16, making him a very capable option. Legace also has 17 games of NHL experience with the Vegas Golden Knights, so he can be called upon if needed.
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Alex D’orio, who played his junior hockey for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, appeared in 31 games for the Wheeling Nailers in the 2019-20 season. D’orio is signed until the end of the 2021-22 campaign, giving him a couple of seasons to secure his spot in the organization’s future plans.
Emil Larmi follows on the depth chart. The Finnish goaltender played in 20 games during the 2019-20 season between the AHL and ECHL and has been placed on loan to HPK of the Finnish Liiga for this season. Only 24-years-old, Larmi can still develop into a capable AHL goaltender.
Free Agent Options
Goalie movement has been common this offseason, with big-name players changing teams. Braden Holtby is joining the Vancouver Canucks, Jacob Markstrom is a Calgary Flame, and of course, Murray is set to make his Ottawa Senators debut. If needed, the Penguins could dip into the free-agent pool for some veteran assistance.
Former Detroit Red Wing Jimmy Howard is coming off of a 2019-20 season where he only won two games in 27 starts, but he is still a capable option for a start or two on an emergency basis. Howard has spent his whole career in Detroit, so a change of scenery could be beneficial for the former all-star.
Another free agent depth option is Mike Condon, who spent time in the Penguins organization during the 2016-17 season. Condon played in 71 games for the Ottawa Senators between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, showing his ability to move up and down the depth chart. If a veteran presence is needed in the minors, Condon is a viable option.
With a young group of goaltenders, the Penguins’ depth at the position will be put to the test moving forward. With Jarry and DeSmith ready to lead the Penguins, along with two freshly drafted goalies, Rutherford has shown faith in this group.
The Penguins kicked off their season on Wednesday night with a 6-3 defeat to the Flyers, who capitalized on every opportunity. Jarry made 19 saves on 25 shots. Pittsburgh will look to bounce back on Friday, January 15, when they face off again in Philadelphia against the Flyers.