Penguins’ Jarry and DeSmith Exceeding Expectations

Tom Barrasso. Ken Wregget. Marc-Andre Fleury. These are just a few goaltenders who found success with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were talented netminders who won the Stanley Cup along the way. All have since moved on to pave the way for the next generation of great goaltenders. Enter Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.

How it Became Jarry and DeSmith

Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft, and then the Penguins goaltending duties fell to Matt Murray. Murray shone brightly for a few seasons, then fell on hard times and signed with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent in the 2020 offseason. This left the tandem of Jarry and DeSmith as Pittsburgh’s main netminders.

At one point, Jarry and Desmith were both playing like starters. They split time in net over the past couple of seasons, as the coach relied on the hot hand. Both took advantage of the opportunity but eventually hit a cold streak as the other took over and ran with their chance.

The Penguins drafted Jarry in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound goalie made his NHL debut in the 2016-17 season but was sent to the Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

DeSmith took a different route. He went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Penguins after his career with the University of New Hampshire was over. At 6-feet and 180 pounds, he is a bit smaller than Jarry but makes up for his stature with outstanding reflexes and puck pursuit. DeSmith also played for Wilkes-Barre Scranton and holds the record for most playoff saves with 59.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Expectations were low following Matt Murray’s departure. Jarry and DeSmith have not only met those low expectations but exceeded them by performing well. Jarry has resurrected his career after being the subject of trade bait in 2010, while DeSmith was just supposed to be a backup.

In 2019, DeSmith was put on waivers as the Penguins had chosen Jarry to be the backup but battled back to be Jarry’s number two a couple of years later.

Jarry, who has two dogs, Diesel and Kitty, played so well that he was able to participate in his first all-star game last year. He was also the hottest goaltender last December by recording the longest shutout streak of 173:06 in Penguins history, surpassing Tomas Vokoun. DeSmith, who started his career in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers, has been a very reliable backup by playing well in limited action.

This season, Jarry has 25 wins and is playing very well, while DeSmith has responded with 11 wins in 20 games. DeSmith has combined with Jarry to give the Penguins a dangerous 1-2 duo in net.

Jarry has 101 career starts (59 wins), while DeSmith has 70 (32 wins). However, during their time in Pittsburgh, they have been a competitive duo, trying to outshine the other at every opportunity. They have a healthy competition amongst each other that brings out the best in their play on the ice. They are good friends off the ice but compete like rivals on the ice. Both goalies are in their mid-to-late twenties and in the prime of their careers.

Despite taking different paths to the NHL, they are capable of carrying an NHL team on their backs. While they are both still young, they are showing they belong on an NHL roster. And despite having that off-game occasionally, they have been outstanding and shown a mental capacity to erase a bad game immediately and focus on the next one. Playing goaltender for a team like Pittsburgh can be mentally exhausting due to the pressure to win on a nightly basis.

Jarry and DeSmith push each other to play better, and they have been a successful duo. This season, Jarry is fifth among NHL goalies in games played with 39, third in wins with 25, fifth in saves with an even 1,000, 39th in save percentage (SV%) with .909. Penguins’ Casey DeSmith emerging as one of NHL’s top backup goalies | DeSmith is doing well for a backup, ranked 45th among goalies in games played with 20, 33rd in wins with 11, his SV% of .912 is 35th, and his goals-against average (GAA) is 2.53, which is 28th.

The Penguins relied heavily on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for their offense, yet most of the team’s success has come from the play of the two young netminders, and they are the reason the team is headed back to the playoffs. This duo has given up 155 goals, which ranks 16th among tandems. They also have a combined 2.77 goals-against average, which is tied for 12th in the league. Heading into the playoffs, Jarry is the number one goalie by the smallest margin, but DeSmith is waiting in the wings for his full-time opportunity.

Should Jarry Be the Starter?

The Penguins are fortunate to have two number one goalies on reasonable contracts — they make less than $8 million combined — given the team’s limited cap space. Jarry is under contract until 2023, while DeSmith is just under contract until 2022.

Jarry and DeSmith are young, capable of getting the job done, and can play another ten years in the league. They both have outstanding rebound control, hockey sense, the ability to single-handily take over a game, manage a game from the crease, play the angles well, and have the vision to follow the puck. They have the motivation to do improve, to earn the top spot, and to make sure the Penguins are primed for another Cup run.

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

Late last week, both were placed on the injured list. Jarry was day-to-day with an upper-body injury, while DeSmith was also day-to-day with a lower-body injury. A few days ago, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, both Jarry and DeSmith took the ice in a skating session with goalie coach Mike Buckley before the full team skate and will be ready for the playoffs.

The rest could not have come at a better time for both goalies who have been battle-tested all season. Heading into Game 1 against the New York Islanders, they should be well-rested, motivated, and mentally ready. Jarry will be the starter, but he has a reliable backup if he falters.