Penguins’ Focus Must Shift Toward Finding a Veteran Backup Goaltender

Photo courtesy of NHL.com


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Much like Tom Brady, the Penguins awoke from the dead yesterday and rallied impressively. However, unlike Tom Brady, the Penguins finished off their comeback with an impressive shootout victory over the Jets on Sunday afternoon, 3-2.

The first 40 minutes were another ugly display of hockey, something that has crept into the Penguins’ game over the past few weeks. However, they pulled together and beat the Jets without their best fastball, yet another thing they’ve continued to do.

The Penguins scored two goals within nine seconds to tie the game in the 3rd period, but that opportunity wouldn’t have even been remotely possible had Tristan Jarry played as poorly as the team in front of him. Instead, for the millionth time this season, he was the best player on the ice.

It’s becoming quite the theme that Jarry is the team’s best player on any given night and keeps them in games. Some of the saves he made Sunday were just incredible ten-bell saves. And there weren’t just one or two of them.   Jarry made too many great saves to count on two hands over the course of yesterday's game.

Full 180 for Jarry

This season was a crossroads in Jarry's career. After an awful showing in the postseason last year, his leash was not going to be long within the fan base. He knew he had to be steady and not allow last year's playoff blow-up drag into this season.

Jarry has answered by doing everything he’s been asked and more. He’s in the Vezina race and he’ll be playing in the All-Star game for a second time. Jarry is putting his woes behind him.  Of course, they won’t officially be behind him until he plays well in the playoffs. Also, if the Penguins were smart, they’d make a move to find a solid veteran backup sooner rather than later.

Casey DeSmith has been a disaster this season. His latest deficiency came on Friday night when he was pulled in the first period after a few ugly goals. DeSmith’s current stats tell the story: 3-3-1, 3.58 goals against average, and a .886 save percentage. DeSmith did get a shutout back on December 11th, but has allowed 10 goals in three games since.

In a typical season, the Penguins would love to get their backup a few more games here and there. DeSmith has been fairly reliable in his other NHL stints to this point but he’s been bad this season. They don’t really trust him as evidenced by Sullivan’s quick hook in DeSmith’s last two starts.

Louis Domingue made his Penguins debut in net on January 15th and looked spectacular. He made 40 saves on 41 shots and got the win in his first of three NHL starts since 2019.

Unfortunately, this past week, Domingue was hit with a puck inadvertently in practice and is now week-to-week with a lower-body injury. His performance could’ve been huge in helping seal the Penguins’ backup goaltender problem. His lack of NHL games, though, could’ve still forced the Penguins to acquire a veteran backup.

With Jarry’s success, the Penguins’ backup situation shouldn’t be on the forefront. However, Jarry’s workload is the main reason for that.  Anytime a goalie is in a groove, you hate to see him taken out of it.  However, the analytics show that the playoffs haven’t been kind to goalies who get an overwhelming majority of their teams’ regular season starts.

Jarry’s 31 starts are fifth in the league this season. His 33 games played are tied for second in the league. That is a lot of time on the ice.  The Penguins can’t afford to play Jarry on both ends of back-to-back games, but they also don’t want to give up one of the games because they don’t trust their backup goalie.

Finding a veteran to spell Jarry a bit and even give the Penguins some insurance is probably a good idea just in case the playoffs become too big of a stage for him again.  This year’s team might have the best chance at making a run as any of the teams since 2017. They’re very deep and getting outrageously good goaltending from one of their netminders.  Jarry staying fresh and playing at his absolute best in the playoffs is imperative. Finding a veteran backup goalie might not be the worst idea.

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