Penguins’ Jarry Thriving After Playoff Disaster

For tenured members of the Pittsburgh Penguins fanbase, the catastrophic goaltending performance put on by Tristan Jarry in the 2021 Playoffs sent the city into a cataclysmic blaze of fury. After last year’s East Division champions were bounced in six increasingly unhinged games, the heir apparent to franchise icon Marc-Andre Fleury found himself wilting under the collective gaze of an entire fanbase. If Jarry’s primary objective entering the 2021-22 season was to regain the confidence of his teammates, coaches, and the fans in the aftermath of a painful public meltdown on the sport’s biggest stage, he’s succeeded. Let’s dig in to his resurrection as Pittsburgh’s leading man.

Jarry and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad 2021 Postseason

Let’s contextualize the Penguins’ first-round series against the New York Islanders. In the regular season, the division winners effectively insulated Jarry at five-on-five, ranking seventh in scoring-chances-allowed (SCA/60) and 13th in expected-goals against (xGA/60). As far as responsible defensive outfits go, Pittsburgh held their own with the most robust of NHL fortresses making Jarry’s implosion all the more appalling in retrospect.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Over six excruciating games, the 2013 second-round pick conceded 21 goals, posting an abysmal .888 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.18 goals-against average (GAA). Driving much of the resulting vitriol was the Penguins’ otherwise comprehensive command of the run of play. At even strength, Pittsburgh controlled 57.7% of unblocked shot attempts (FF%), 53.5% of the expected-goals tally (xGF%), and 57.2% of the collective scoring chances. For posterity, Jarry faced just under 15 expected goals worth of chances and delivered a negative-six return in actual results, the worst among playoff goaltenders. Across the extremely limited sample that is a single playoff series, such harsh puck-luck is an unmistakable death knell and unfortunately globs onto our memory as a vivid reminder of such overwhelming failure.

What clearly works in Jarry’s favour is that the Islanders series likely represents the worst stretch of his career. It’s highly unlikely that an otherwise serviceable net-minder (.913 career save percentage) consistently combusts over a much larger, and more reliable sample of starts. In any case, discussions around his big-game mentality are beyond my expertise, and shouldn’t take away from his wider NHL portfolio which currently stands at 107 games in a Penguins uniform. Now, let’s look at how he’s returned to form in 2021-22.

Jarry’s Prompt 2021-22 Resurgence

Through his first six starts of the year, Jarry’s record stands at 3-2-1, with a SV% of .926 and 2.15 GAA. Absent the familiar faces of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust, the rag-tag Penguins have relied on a combination of unexpected production from unheralded contributors and Jarry’s excellence in goal to tread water in the competitive Eastern Conference. Even while short-handed, they remain within striking distance of a wildcard spot, and a head-to-head win against one of their division rivals puts them in the realm of an automatic qualification slot.

According to the fine folks at MoneyPuck, Jarry has saved 2.5 goals-above-expected in all situations, 13th among NHL goalies who have played a minimum of three games. Further, he’s frequently come to the Penguins’ rescue this season by denying opponents on high-danger opportunities from in the slot, and around the goal crease. Among the same group of qualified goalies, Jarry’s .867 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) ranks fourth in the NHL. Pittsburgh doesn’t allow many quality chances to challenge their masked men (third-lowest xGA/60 rate at 5v5) but when they do, Jarry stands tall.

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The biggest difference in Jarry’s game, however, is his performance on special teams, where he’s carried the Penguins to a league-leading penalty kill rate of 94.74 percent. Among goalies with at least 10 minutes played while short-handed, he’s faced the 18th-highest rate of xGA and the average distance of attempted shots he sees is 15th among 50 goalies. Even so, he’s posted a PKSV% of .933, good for eight in the NHL, and a far cry from his 2020-21 mark of .835 (64th in the league), and his .800 in the playoff debacle against the Islanders. I of all people should be wary of preemptively pumping a player’s tires based on an extremely small sample of performances, but Jarry looks to have turned a corner.

Is a Vezina Trophy in Jarry’s Future?

If it weren’t for the bewildering brilliance of several often maligned net-minders in Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Carolina’s Frederik Andersen, Jarry might have a better case for a Vezina Trophy nomination. For Penguins fans, continued consistency in net and avoiding another goaltending capitulation in the playoffs should suffice. If he is to make amends for his postseason performance, he’ll have to extend this run of consistently as long as possible. If you take anything from this article, remember: goaltending is voodoo. Expecting anything else is a recipe for disaster.

Data courtesy of Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick.

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