Penguins expect an even workload for Matt Murray and his backups
Last season, Tristan Jarry became a viral sensation.
During the late stages of an afternoon AHL game on Nov. 14 between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Springfield Falcons at venerable MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., the Falcons pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker and Jarry pounced on the opportunity.
Knocking down a dump-in attempt in his own crease, Jarry teed up the puck and whipped it down ice at the vacant cage for the first goal by a goaltender in the history of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton franchise.
The video of the goal became wildly popular on YouTube as well as other social media outlets and was aggregated to seemingly every hockey-conscious corner of Internet.
Jarry got “tons” of text messages on his phone following the game.
On Tuesday, he got something else.
An NHL job.
The Penguins chose Jarry to serve as Matt Murray’s backup over incumbent Casey DeSmith to open this season in a decision rooted more in economics — Jarry has a salary cap hit of $675,000 while DeSmith carries a hit of $1.25 million at the NHL level — than on-ice ability.
Both players played at a high level during an open competition in training camp, according to general manager Jim Rutherford. For Jarry, it’s the first time he’ll open a season on the NHL roster after being with the Penguins in some capacity since they made him a second-round draft pick in 2013.
DeSmith will open the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after clearing waivers at noon on Tuesday. While DeSmith will still be paid the entirety of his salary, the Penguins only will incur a salary-cap hit of $175,000 while he is stationed with their AHL affiliate.
Entering the first year of a three-year deal he signed in January, DeSmith was awarded that contract because of the sturdy play he offered as Murray’s backup last season when he appeared in a career-best 36 games with a 15-11-5 record, a 2.75 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and three shutouts.
The Penguins turned to DeSmith as often as they did because of in part a combination of inconsistent stretches and various medical ailments for Murray. But it was also by design.
They, like most NHL teams, simply don’t have an interest in seeing their starting goaltender play so many regular-season games. The Penguins are believed to favor an ideal ratio of 55 to 60 games for Murray and 20 to 30 games for his backup, whether it’s Jarry or DeSmith or a combination of both.
“We certainly have a number in mind we’re trying to accomplish,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We sketch out month to month what it looks like. But as I always tell (media), we sketch it in pencil because we’re trying to look at the big picture, but we’re also trying to manage it day to day and where the team is at a particular time in the season.
The days of a starting goaltender logging 70-plus games have gone the way of Jofa helmets and Nortland sticks. Last season, Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild led all NHL goaltenders with 67 games. A decade ago, in the 2009-10 campaign, six goaltenders appeared in 70 or more contests, including league leader Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, who played in 77 games.
“Teams are just smarter now,” DeSmith said. “It’s not because goalies aren’t capable of doing it anymore. It’s just, why do you need to?”
During the Penguins’ most recent Stanley Cup run of 2016-17, they split their goaltending duties between Murray and former starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray appeared in 49 games, and Fleury saw 38 contests. Last season’s Stanley Cup champion, the St. Louis Blues, had goaltenders Jake Allen (45 games) and Jordan Binnington (32 games) — along with journeyman Chad Johnson and his 10 appearances — virtually platoon during the regular season.
“When you look at goalies that go deep into the playoffs and have the ability to sustain their play, I think an important aspect of that is trying to manage the regular season workload as best you can,” Sullivan said.
Murray professes an indifference to how much work he may see this season.
“I don’t care either way,” he said. “That’s out of my control. I’ll be ready whenever they want me to play.”
Jarry is making the move from AHL starter to NHL backup to start this season. For him, there is little difference in how he prepares for a lesser workload at a greater level.
“It’s almost the same,” Jarry said. “You always have to be prepared. You have treat every game as the same thing. Just making sure you’re mentally prepared even if you’re not playing, I think that’s a huge thing. You see how well Casey did last year and how well he was able to do it. It’s keeping the same mindset.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .