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Penguins notebook: Team puts struggling goalie Antti Niemi on waivers, recalls Casey DeSmith

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, 1:09 p.m.

The Penguins reached their backup breaking point Monday afternoon, deciding they could no longer keep trotting Antti Niemi out there and hoping for the best.

After giving up 16 goals in less than seven periods of work in his first three starts with the team, the 34-year-old Finnish goaltender was placed on waivers.

If he is not claimed by noon Tuesday, coach Mike Sullivan said the ideal scenario would see Niemi assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL to work on his game.

“That would be a great option, to give him an opportunity to get in some ideal circumstances and give him an opportunity to build his confidence in an environment that's not as high stakes as the one we're in here,” Sullivan said.

Taking Niemi's spot on the depth chart behind Matt Murray will be 26-year-old prospect Casey DeSmith, who was called up late Monday afternoon.

In the long run, 22-year-old Tristan Jarry is the Penguins goaltender with the most promising prospect profile. He's a second-round draft pick who won a Memorial Cup in junior hockey and turned in a strong sophomore season last year in the AHL.

Right now, though, DeSmith is probably the better goaltender.

An undrafted free agent out of the University of New Hampshire in his third pro season, DeSmith was brilliant in the AHL last year (21-5-1, 2.01 goals-against average, .926 save percentage), faring a little better than Jarry (28-15-1, 2.15, .925).

This year, it's been no contest. DeSmith has given up three goals in three games, winning them all. Jarry is 1-2 and has given up 12 goals.

“They're both good young goaltenders,” Sullivan said. “When we signed Antti, we knew we had two guys in Tristan and DeSmith who are young goalies with a lot of upside.”

There's no question Niemi's first three starts with the Penguins came under extraordinarily trying conditions. They were all on the tail end of a back-to-back set of games on the road against teams with high-octane offenses, once versus Chicago and twice against Tampa Bay.

“Those were extremely tough spots,” Murray said. “I feel really bad for him in a way. He works his ass off in practices and then has to be in those situations. It's not easy.”

There's also no question Niemi's performances weren't up to snuff. Coming off two subpar seasons in Dallas, Niemi is 0-3 with a 7.49 goals-against average and .797 save percentage. The Penguins signed him to a one-year, $700,000 deal in July.

Where the new guy fits

Newly acquired center Riley Sheahan practiced with the Penguins for the first time Monday, skating on the third line between Swedish wingers Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist.

“They're both amazing skaters,” Sheahan said. “They get on the puck and forecheck. Even today in practice, just kind of doing some drills with them, I feel like we connected a bit. I'm really excited.”

Injury update

Center Carter Rowney, who left Saturday's game in Tampa with a hand injury suffered while blocking a shot, was placed on injured reserve Monday, which means he will miss at least a week.

Sullivan said defenseman Matt Hunwick, out with a concussion since Oct. 17, is making progress and has begun skating on his own.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, reacts after Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, scored against him during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, reacts after Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, scored against him during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Penguins goalie Antti Niemi makes a save against the Lightning during the second period Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
Penguins goalie Antti Niemi makes a save against the Lightning during the second period Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
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