Penguins need Casey DeSmith, Tristan Jarry to bring their 'A' games
The grading scale is changing for Pittsburgh Penguins goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry.
When they first came up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, it was easy to evaluate them on a curve. As long as they gave their team a reasonable chance to win a game, they got high marks.
After the Penguins split a two-game road trip to Winnipeg and Colorado this week, it has become clear that scale no longer applies.
DeSmith made enough saves to get the Penguins a 4-3 win Tuesday against the Jets. With Jarry in net, the Penguins were locked in a 3-3 tie in the third period Wednesday in Colorado.
The team had a chance to win both games, but was anyone watching giving either goalie much better than a “C” on his report card?
There are two main reasons for the changing standard.
First, by playing poorly throughout most of November, the Penguins put themselves in a position where they can’t hang their hat on moral victories or individual player development. They need to win to make the playoffs.
Second, by playing well in limited NHL duty, DeSmith and Jarry have raised their own expectations.
Among goalies who have made at least 10 starts this season, DeSmith’s .924 save percentage is eighth best in the league. Jarry led all NHL rookies with 14 wins last season.
They have shown they are capable of performing at a high level, so that is what coach Mike Sullivan expects from them moving forward.
“For sure,” Sullivan said. “The burden of responsibility of success is that you have to repeat it. When you have success, then expectations increase, whether it’s an individual player or if it’s a group.”
For a further illustration of the changing burden of expectations for the pair, look at the two games DeSmith has played at MTS Bell Place in Winnipeg in his career.
The first came Oct. 29 last season. It was DeSmith’s first NHL appearance. He came on in relief of Matt Murray late in the first period and stopped 12 of 15 shots in a 7-1 loss. The second came Tuesday when he started and made 24 saves in a 4-3 Penguins victory.
DeSmith gave up three goals in both games. His assessment of his play, however, was very different.
“To go out there and let in three goals first game, I’m like, ‘Tough place to play. Tough time to go in.’ You can kind of justify things a little bit,” DeSmith said. “Now that I’ve got more experience, three goals doesn’t feel as good. A bad goal against doesn’t slide off quite as easily because you expect to grow and play better and better as you play more.”
Ultimately, the Penguins’ goaltending future is in the hands of Matt Murray.
The 24-year-old, two-time Stanley Cup champion remains sidelined with a lower-body injury, though Sullivan said Friday, without divulging any details, the Penguins have a rehab plan mapped out for his return.
Murray coming back in fine form would be the path of least resistance for the Penguins. If he doesn’t, general manager Jim Rutherford might have to wade into the murky goaltender trade market.
In the meantime, though, the position is in the hands of DeSmith and Jarry.
For the Penguins to establish themselves as legitimate contenders, they will need both to get good grades.
“The more these guys are around,” Sullivan, said, “the more we have an opportunity to evaluate their daily habits, their daily strengths and weaknesses, and with each game that they play, we’ve got a bigger body of work to get an objective assessment of where we think each guy is and which guys give us the best chance to win.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.