Grading the Goal: Pittsburgh Penguins

Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith together

It seems like just yesterday that the Pittsburgh Penguins boasted the luxury of two stud goalies on their roster, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, coming off of their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. But fast-forward to 2020, and you’d be hard pressed to explain how in the world they have neither of those goaltenders now, and instead are left with an unproven tandem combining for all of 112 games of NHL experience – total. Between the two of them. Yeah, you read that right. Here’s a look at where the Penguins stand between the pipes.

In the summer of 2017, after capturing their second Stanley Cup in as many years, the Penguins parted ways with 2003 first-overall draft pick Marc-Andre Fleury, who had been with the team for three Cup wins in his time there. While a decrease in playing time in favor of the young Matt Murray certainly played as a factor in the decision to expose Fleury, it ultimately came down to a salary cap crunch that sent Fleury out the doors.

Fast forward to the summer of 2020. And despite all the craziness and unpredictability of this year, I’m not sure anyone saw the departure of Matt Murray coming, at least not until it became apparent that, just as in 2017, the salary cap was once again going to be a potential pitfall in new contract negotiations.

The 26-year old Murray was traded to the Ottawa Senators during the NHL Free Agency frenzy, and subsequently signed a 4-year deal with the team. Murray was looking for both term and a decent payout, and seeing as he’s the guy who carried the Pens to two straight Stanley Cups, he just as well deserved both.

The reality of the situation was this: the Penguins just weren’t in a position to pay to hang on to him. Pittsburgh’s General Manager Jim Rutherford expressed the desire to keep Murray on the roster via a new contract, but said that both the current cap hit of their roster and the dwindling likelihood of the NHL’s salary cap being raised in the near future just didn’t give them the flexibility, or the leverage, that they needed to make that happen.

Now we’re in November 2020, and the next NHL regular season is planned to begin on either January 1, February 1, or, you know, some day in 2021. Hopefully. And when that day comes, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goal crease is going to look a lot different. Say hello to Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.

Pens fans actually already know both Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, but only as a pair of backups who have stepped in either as a stop gap when Matt Murray fell to injury or when one of them wasn’t playing too hot for the big club. Around the league, though, the casual fan might not recognize either of these names. They’re certainly no Henrik Lundqvist, at least not yet. But everybody gets their shot, and both men will certainly have ample opportunity to become household names once the next season rolls around.

So without further ado, let’s meet Tristan Jarry. Standing and six-foot-two and weighing in at 194 lbs., the Surrey, British Columbia native is still quite young as NHL goalies come, at the ripe age of 25.

Tristan Jarry spent last season in the NHL with the Penguins, backing up Matt Murray
Tristan Jarry spent last season in the NHL with the Penguins, backing up Matt Murray

Jarry was drafted in the second round by the Penguins way back in 2013, and while he hasn’t been an NHL stalwart since then, he has seen his share of time in the big league of late. In 2019-20, Jarry spent his season in Pittsburgh and played in 33 games, posting a pretty good record of 20-12-1. He also posted solid personal numbers: a 2.43 GAA, .921 SV%, and three shutouts.

In his NHL career, Tristan Jarry is 34-20-4 in 62 games played, with a 2.61 GAA, .914 SV%, and five shutouts. He has also appeared in one NHL playoff game, and is 0-1 with a 1.02 GAA and .952 SV%.

Despite his lack of experience, Tristan Jarry also played in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

In his career with the Pens’ AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Jarry’s best season came back in 2016-17, wherein he appeared in 45 games and put up career bests in goals against average and save percentage: 2.15 and .925, respectively.

Now that we’ve gotten to know a bit about one of the new Penguins mainstays in goal, let’s introduce ourselves to the other. Meet Casey DeSmith.

Casey DeSmith is an American goaltender hailing from Rochester, New Hampshire, and standing a few inches shorter than his counterpart Jarry, at six-foot-even. The 29-year old, 181 lb. goaltender was un-drafted coming out of the University of New Hampshire in NCAA college hockey.

When he signed with the Penguins organization, Casey DeSmith had to work his way up the rungs, starting with the club’s ECHL affiliate Wheeling Nailers. Since then, DeSmith has appeared in 50 NHL games, securing a record of 21-15-6, along with a 2.66 GAA, .917 SV%, and four shutouts.

His entire body of work in the NHL came spread across two seasons from 2017-2019. DeSmith did not appear in an NHL game in the 2019-20 campaign. In the AHL last season, he played 41 games, and recorded a 2.92 GAA and .905 SV%.

In the 2016-17 season with the AHL Penguins, DeSmith led the league in goalie statistics with a 2.01 GAA and .926 SV% as part of the best goalie duo in the league. The other goalie in that duo? Tristan Jarry.

Casey DeSmith spent the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign in the AHL, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Casey DeSmith spent the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign in the AHL, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

That’s right, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are no stranger to one another. In fact, they know each other quite well. In 2017, Jarry and DeSmith won the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award together in the AHL for fewest collective goals against throughout the league. That’s a relationship and track record that could serve them quite well in the NHL.

If I had to guess, I would say Tristan Jarry is slated as the starter going into the 2021 NHL season, with Casey DeSmith serving as backup out of the gate. There’s a few reasons that make me think this. First: Jarry has more NHL experience, albeit just by a marginal number of starts. Second, he spent last season with the big club while DeSmith played the entirety of it in the AHL. Jarry performed well, too, while Matt Murray faltered or was out injured. This is how I see the Penguins playing this situation, but it remains to be seen what their plans actually are.

Now that Jarry and DeSmith are up with the big club in Pittsburgh, though, what does the Pens’ organizational depth look like as far as goaltending? With DeSmith likely to be the season-long backup to Jarry in the NHL, that leaves a gaping hole in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. As does the departure of last year’s other goalie, Dustin Tokarski, who signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

The projected roster for the AHL penguins next season shows that they are likely to carry three goaltenders: Maxime Lagace, Emil Larmi, and Alex D’Orio.

Lagace played last season with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, and posted career best stats with a 2.37 GAA, .919 SV%, and a 22-7-3 record. This positions him as the likely starter in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Larmi and D’Orio have less playing experience, as Larmi split time between the AHL and ECHL last year, and D’Orio played last season fully in the ECHL.

As far as the ECHL affiliate Wheeling Nailers, it’s tough to project what their roster is going to be, as the Wheeling Nailers website has yet to post one. The ECHL season plans to begin play with 13 teams on December 14th, and will play until January 11th. Their season looks a lot different, and therefore putting together a team is probably much different than in other years right now.

However, Jordan Ruby was the other Wheeling Nailers goaltender from the 2019-20 season, and could stay part of the team should the season be conducted as planned.

The story in Pittsburgh, for the first time in nearly two decades, is one of uncertainty. Will the new, inexperienced goalie tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith be able to backstop the veteran Penguins roster to a winning season and another playoff berth? Only time will tell.

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