Thoughts From Penguins Opening Night and the Look Ahead

Tristan Jarry makes a save on Ondrej Palat in the first period of Tuesday's game. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

Heading into the 2021-22' season, the Penguins were already being counted out. Many pundits had different reasons for it. Their core is aging, the roster is arguably no better than the one that got bounced out against the Islanders last spring, and don't get anyone started on the goalie situation.

Goaltender Tristan Jarry was the target of much of the flack thrown Pittsburgh's way over the course of the offseason. And rightfully so.  Jarry crumbled in the playoffs behind a team that largely dominated most of the series and lost handily because their goaltender was that bad. Many had been calling for General Manager Ron Hextall to swing a deal for a goaltender in the offseason. I believed one was absolutely going to happen. That never materialized.

So enter Tuesday night. Jarry stood tall in goal behind what is nearly the same defensive core he played behind last season, sans Cody Ceci. Never mind the fact that the Penguins were taking on the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.  All he did in response to all the noise and questions was post 26 saves on 28 shots to lead the Penguins to a 6-2 win over the Lightning. Both of those goals came late in the game when Lightning head coach Jon Cooper pulled his goalie with about six minutes left. Essentially, Jarry led a shutout at 5-on-5. That is a massive response.

Consider too that Pittsburgh is already down four players that would have been on the Opening Night roster: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Zach Aston-Reese. All four of these players have key roles on the team. Instead, six different goal scorers pitched in to help push Pittsburgh over Tampa Bay and lighten the load on Jarry a bit.

Jarry is one of the hardest athletes to get a read on that has come through Pittsburgh in a long time. Most of his interviews are done in the same monotone voice with a straight face and dry answers. Marc-Andre Fleury was known for being cheerful but you could also often tell when he wasn't entirely on his game. Matt Murray was brash and bold and often didn't take the blame when things didn't go his way, and would instead deflect blame to his teammates.

However, you can't get a read on Jarry. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe it isn't. Questions about his maturity have been a real sticking point since his playoff meltdown last season. Is he mentally prepared for the laborious stress and grind required to win the Stanley Cup? After all, you've got to win 16 games against really quality opponents to do so. A team can score all the goals it wants, but if the goalie is a head case and can't stop a beach ball, as Jarry probably couldn't in last year's first round against the Islanders, that team doesn't stand a chance.

The lasting image everyone had of Tristan Jarry was pretty clear. They remember the pass that Jarry threw directly to the Islanders in overtime that found its way into the back of the net and killed everything the Penguins had going in that game, the series, and the season.

For me personally, I was going to have a hard time trusting Jarry again after that. It is also easy to forget that Jarry made the All-Star game in 2019-20'. The capability to perform is obviously there. However, if he isn't at peak form come the spring, nothing really matters.

The 26-year old goaltender took a solid step towards regaining some trust among Penguin faithful again with his performance Tuesday. He out-dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy, who, for my money, is the best goaltender in the NHL. There needs to be a lot more where that came from, however, before people will finally accept Jarry again as the Penguins' franchise goalie.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph recalled to Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins recalled defenseman Pierre-Olivier Jospeh on Wednesday in advance of Thursday's tilt in Florida against the Panthers. Sending forward Anthony Angello back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was the corresponding move.

Joseph is the Penguins' top defensive prospect who had a cup of coffee with the parent club last season. In 16 games last season, Joseph posted one goal and six points over that span. He saw a good deal of time playing with Kris Letang and saw some power play time as well.

The 22-year old was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prior to the season with the idea that he would get some playing time as opposed to being a part of the Pens' log jam on the right side.  Fortunately for Joseph, Mike Matheson got injured during practice this week and opened up a spot at right wing. Matheson is only day-to-day according to head coach Mike Sullivan which makes the choice to bring up Joseph a bit curious unless they plan on giving him extended playing time.

At practice on Wednesday, Joseph rotated in and out of rushes with Chad Ruhwedel. I can't see the Penguins calling him up to sit the bench so one would think he will get the nod over one of Chad Ruhwedel or Mark Friedman.

The AHL season doesn't open up until the weekend so getting Jospeh an extra game or two also could be the thought. After all, the former Arizona Coyotes first-round pick does factor into Pittsburgh's plans going forward.

Crosby, Guentzel back at practice

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel returned to practice on Wednesday.  Crosby is recovering from offseason wrist surgery while Guentzel is coming back from his battle with COVID-19.

Crosby had been doing side work and not participating in team practices. Guentzel participated in the actual line rushes skating alongside Jeff Carter and Bryan Rust. That is a good indication that Pittsburgh may have him back for Thursday's contest, a huge boost to a depleted forward group.

Crosby, while not participating in line rushes, may not be far behind. He likely won't play Thursday, but this weekend or early next week feels like a realistic return date.  With Guentzel hopping into the line rushes, Drew O'Connor was the rotating forward at practice. This likely means that, despite his impressive preseason, O'Connor will not be dressed Thursday barring another practice injury or something of the sort.

Comments