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Tim Benz: Goaltender Tristan Jarry's call-up to Penguins overdue

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 8:36 p.m.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry knocks the puck away from Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha in the second period of a preseason game Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Detroit.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry knocks the puck away from Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha in the second period of a preseason game Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Detroit.

It's the end of October, and goaltender Tristan Jarry has been called up to join the Penguins in Edmonton.

He should have been with them to begin the season at the start of October.

That's not a second guess of Casey DeSmith coming up for one game. He was playing better at that moment in the AHL. And his promotion was part of the same reasoning why Jarry was held in the minors to begin with.

Rather, this is reiterating a “first guess” that it was a mistake to make anyone else besides Jarry the backup goaltender to Matt Murray at the outset of this season.

Especially Antti Niemi.

“This is where I want to be,” Jarry said in the Penguins dressing room Tuesday. “This is where every kid dreams to be when they grow up.”

He should've been there for a month.

We don't need to revisit why Niemi was the wrong goalie to replace Marc-Andre Fleury after he went to Las Vegas.

General manager Jim Rutherford acknowledged that error through action by releasing Niemi so quickly. But the fact the Penguins have lost all four games in which a backup has played is worth investigating.

Because if Jarry had been with the Penguins from the outset, perhaps one or two of those contests could have gone the other direction.

“We've put ourselves behind early, and by a bunch,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

“When it's 3-0 in the first five to seven minutes, it's kind of hard to climb out of that.”

To be clear, Crosby was being critical of the team collectively. Not just the goaltending.

And the Penguins were so bad in those games — getting outscored 29-7 — that Martin Brodeur in his prime might not have helped steal a win.

But it's at least possible a goalie like Jarry with a sharper current game than the washed-up Niemi could've started one of those games better.

Or a goalie like Jarry with a higher pedigree than DeSmith could've at least kept the deficit manageable long enough in relief Sunday in Winnipeg to have given the Penguins a shot.

Maybe if Jarry was on the roster, Murray doesn't have to be forced into the 10-1 loss in Chicago in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding. Maybe Mike Sullivan doesn't start a fatigued Murray on a second straight night in Winnipeg and starts Jarry instead because actually getting playing time for Jarry is more of an organizational priority than it was to hide DeSmith until absolutely necessary.

And that's the quizzical part of the team's approach to Jarry. The belief is Jarry is a bright enough prospect that the club doesn't want his development slowed because of limited minutes playing behind Murray.

Understandable. But it's not like Jarry is being groomed to eventually take Murray's job. Unless Murray's career takes an out-of-nowhere turn for the worse, Jarry is destined to be Murray's backup-for-life, anyway.

Didn't the Penguins just let a former franchise goalie go to Las Vegas so Murray could be anointed the new franchise goalie here? Why does Jarry's seasoning to be a starter matter if the likelihood is he'll never be a full-time starter in the long run? The hope is Murray is going to be here for almost a decade, right?

At least I hope so. You know, with the two Stanley Cups as a 23-year-old and all.

Furthermore, Rutherford said the goal for Niemi was to play somewhere between 30 and 40 games anyway. Jarry played 45 last season and 33 the season before in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

So the workload would've been consistent.

And I'd also like to ask the question: What helps a goalie's development more? Playing 45 games against AHL players? Or getting 35 games against NHL players and practicing against Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin every day?

I'll take Option B.

Jarry also gets to be reunited with Mike Buckley. He is in his first season as the goalie coach with the parent club. Buckley spent the previous four years as the organization's goaltending development coach.

“It's very easy to come up and down with him here,” Jarry said. “It's nice to have those familiar faces to fall back on.”

It just seems as if the Penguins did a lot of work to prevent promoting the goalie they feel has the most upside and would've worked the best in their plans to support Murray.

And I'm glad they've fixed that mistake before the second month of the season starts.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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