The 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins have been shackled by injuries. To list a few names: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin and Patric Hornqvist all spent time on the injured reserve list. Despite the many hurdles, the team has remained diligent and disciplined, combining together 34 wins and 73 points. Many factors have played a role in these unexpected results.
During Crosby’s absence, Malkin played some of the best hockey of his career, registering 11 goals, 27 assists and a plus-10 in 26 games. He also missed two games due to illness. His 1.46 points-per-game clip is only behind the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl (1.54) and Connor McDavid (1.46) this season.
Defenseman Kris Letang was similarly productive, mustering 16 points in 22 games, a .76 points-per-game clip far ahead of his career average of .665. Yet neither Malkin nor Letang stunned the Pens faithful during the captain’s absence.
No, it was Tristan Jarry. After a strong start, Matt Murray’s production fell precipitously; Jarry got the cage. During the 20-game sample that followed, Jarry recorded a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA) and .920 save percentage (SV%). A hot December in which the Penguins had a 9-2-1 record? Jarry had a 1.56 GAA and .947 SV%.
A Closer Look Between the Pipes
The numbers only strengthen Jarry’s case as the Penguins’ Most Valuable Player this season and as one of the best netminders in the NHL. Us goalie fanatics use all types of analytics to evaluate performance. One of the best? GSAA, also known as goals saved above average. Similar to MLB’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat, GSAA calculates how many goals a netminder keeps off the scoreboard compared to an average crease protector.
While limited, in that the stat does not account for penalty-killing, shot quantity or team defense, it provides a baseline for goalie performance and differentiates how far above or below the line a netminder is performing. Leading the crew is Boston Bruins ace Tuukka Rask, the likely Vezina Trophy winner, with an 18.85 GSAA. Next on the list is the Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop at 16.24. Third? Jarry at 15.45.
How Valuable is Jarry?
Jarry’s value also comes from how reliable he’s been compared to Murray. Murray, when he’s on, is an elite goaltender but even he would agree the 2019-20 season hasn’t been his best. He has a minus-7.18 GSAA, meaning he’s allowed seven more goals than an average goalie is expected to. The gap between Jarry’s 15.45 and Murray’s minus-7.18 is 22.63 GSAA, the third-largest gap in the NHL.
Those 22 goals may not seem substantial but when games are often decided by one goal, every save matters. The Pens have won 16 one-goal games this season and when the difference between playoffs and couch sitting is a matter of a few points, that’s significant.
Jarry: The One Constant for Penguins
Goaltending is often the difference between success and failure. It’s not a coincidence that the coaches who were fired this year also had poor work in the crease. San Jose Sharks’ Martin Jones has been the league’s worst goalie, posting an impressively poor minus-18.25 GSAA. Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury have both had poor showings which pushed their coaches from behind the bench.
Strong production in the blue paint can also mask shortcomings to keep a team afloat. Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins’ work with the Columbus Blue Jackets comes to mind as well as Washington Capitals rookie Ilya Samsonov, who’s done much more than keep his team above water.
Plenty of people deserve credit for the Penguins’ success. Head coach Mike Sullivan is a leading Jack Adams candidate, implementing a more responsible and disciplined system which has served them well in their own end. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have both been excellent this season while Malkin and Letang have played close to their ceiling.
When it comes to dealing with as many injuries as the Penguins have suffered this season, we’ve seen time and again teams crumble under the pressure. The 2019-20 Penguins are a special group and Jarry is the foundation of that success. (from ‘Penguins first-half superlatives: MVP, biggest surprise, best addition,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 01/06/2020)