What Should the Penguins Do About Their Goaltending Situation?

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In the least shocking development of all-time, it seems like Tristan Jarry is starting to fade. Through no fault of his own, the Penguins have asked him to carry entirely too much of the load this season. With 57 games already under his belt, Jarry will likely play north of 60 games for the first time in his career.

In a generation where teams seem to rely on a 1A/1B situation more than ever before, the Penguins have given Jarry the traditional starter's workload. Marc-Andre Fleury played in 67 games back in 2009-10’ which is currently the franchise record. Jarry will fall short of that amount - and hopefully no one will ever break that record in an 82-game season for the Pens ever again because that’s entirely too many - by a handful.

Fleury posted an .891 save percentage and a 2.78 goals against average in 13 playoff games that year. Needless to say, he wasn’t at his sharpest.

This column will not be written as slander towards Jarry. Everyone should be very appreciative of the fact that he carried the Penguins through the first two months of the season with his play. He was playing at a level higher than most goaltenders around the league.

Now, Jarry’s play is noticeably slipping. He’s given up more weak goals than he did at any point this season. To be fair, the team in front of him hasn’t looked up to snuff, either. He is being left out to dry but he’s also allowing goals that just shouldn’t be finding their way into the back of the net.

We already watched last season as the Penguins lost to the Islanders solely because of their goaltending. Jarry’s playoff performance ranked highly on the list of goaltending failures of the last decade. The Penguins had a team primed to make a deep run and were instead knocked off their high horse quicker than Cameron Smith on Sunday at Augusta National.

To make matters worse, the only goaltender the Penguins can fall back on is veteran backup Casey DeSmith. DeSmith has never played in a playoff game and the Penguins had every reason to turn to him as a last ditch effort in the playoffs last year. They didn’t.

DeSmith started the season on an awful trend,  ballooning his stats higher than anyone was comfortable seeing. He has since found his game, to an extent, and is playing better hockey, showcased by the fact he was able to make some huge saves - 33 of them to be exact - against the playoff-bound Predators on Sunday.

In all honesty, I’d like the Penguins to turn to DeSmith again on Tuesday when they go to Long Island. They have to win some games here in the last few weeks. They’re now only three points up on the Washington Capitals for third-place in the Metropolitan Division. What once seemed like a formality that they’d play the Rangers in round one is now desperately hanging on by a thread.

Let DeSmith, who played tremendous on Sunday, have a chance to run with a game or two or three. This will give Jarry a much-needed rest heading into the playoffs and can maybe keep any momentum the Penguins culled from Sunday's game.

For the Penguins to be successful in the playoffs, it’s likely going to be ‘Jarry-or-bust’ when it comes to their goaltending situation. But giving DeSmith some more confidence as the playoffs approach in case his number is called upon is not a bad idea either.

The organization created this mess. Mike Sullivan has elected to run the wheels off of Jarry similar to the way the Steelers used every last ounce of Le’Veon Bell before finally parting ways with him. He has given Jarry no break and DeSmith no chance.

Sullivan’s bosses, Ron Hextall and Brian Burke, chose not to address the position after last postseason’s meltdown and at this season’s trade deadline. Hindsight is 20/20 which is fair, and I’m on record saying that the Penguins were okay at the backup goaltending position. That doesn’t ultimately mean that what I said is going to end up being the right call.

Any goaltender, pitcher, infielder, forward, quarterback, point guard, etc. wants to play every waking minute of every game but it’s just not possible. Sports are demanding and even the highest level of athlete gets burnt out if they’re overused. Maybe that’s what we’re seeing with Jarry.

The race ended up being so tight that the Penguins needed every point Jarry earned them early on this season. But the fact of the matter is that Jarry’s save percentage now sits at .919 for the year. Just a few short weeks ago, he was north of .930. That might not seem like a lot but in save percentage, that’s a significant drop for a month(ish) span.

Sullivan should give DeSmith another start on Tuesday and go on a game-to-game basis before the playoff starts to make sure Jarry gets some rest, but also doesn’t sit too much and get rusty. Of course, this all could’ve been prevented if DeSmith was given even 7-10 more starts. The disparity would look much better and maybe Jarry’s overall play wouldn’t be slipping.

But what happens next is really anyone’s guess and something that only Sullivan, Hextall, and Burke have an answer to.

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