2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins season preview: Jarry and DeSmith ride again

2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins season preview: Jarry and DeSmith ride again

After looking at the forwards and then the defensemen in our Penguins’ season preview, it’s now onto the men in the big pads that stand in front of fast moving pucks.

NHL goalies

It is an odd thing to say that the goaltending was mostly strong last year, considering that the Penguins’ season ended primarily due to substandard goaltending and that is the lingering memory. However, it stll remains true that for the regular season the Pens got an incredibly high level of goaltending play.

In 5v5 save percentage, Pittsburgh finished sixth on the season for combined goalie performance across the league by that metric. Expand that to all situations — important since a goal given up on the power play or shorthanded or at 4v4 counts just as much as at the normal 5v5 — and the Pens were up to second place with their goalies stopping a total of .914% of all shots seen. Only the Rangers, fueled by Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin, could boast a better save percentage as a team.

Most of the credit to this must be given to starter Tristan Jarry, who played the lion-share of games for the Pens. Jarry’s 3,415 minutes last season ranked sixth in the NHL, and would have been higher had he not been injured for the final two weeks of the season.

The Pens also ended up with the No. 3 penalty kill in the league that was also driven by Jarry. The starter’s .914 save% while short-handed ranked third individually among regular NHL netminders last year. Show me a great PK goalie and I’ll show you a great PK’ing team, and that qualified for Pittsburgh last season.

2021-22 was truly a season where Jarry proved he could be one of the league’s top goalies, and everything was going so swimmingly until the aforementioned game on April 14th against the Islanders where he suffered a broken foot.

The Pens’ season went off the rails as a result, further damaged when Casey DeSmith suffered his second season-ending core injury in as many years. Jarry admirably played in Game 7, trying his best to gut out a performance to boost Pittsburgh onto the next round. A round he admitted today, he wouldn’t have been able to start if they did win, which seemed obvious considering the sizeable limp he had walked out of the press conference after Game 7.

It’s also a wonder if Jarry would have been able to play again at all last spring, considering after his gutsy performance to try to play that he couldn’t actually get his foot back in a skate for a month.

It’s rarely a good thing when a player talks about the off-season being about treatment and therapy rather than being free to train for the upcoming season.

Jarry’s performance and sharpness as a result will be something to watch out for. Especially considering that he was so good last year and situationally on the PK was a very strong goalie. Can he replicate those great results after what was a difficult and challenging off-season just to get back to being right? Perhaps this is a bump in the road and already in the rear view mirror, but it will be worth monitoring as the team gets up and running. He did say yesterday he was 100% and ready to go — but then again would anyone expect less?

organizational backup

Heaven help us all..

Pittsburgh went out and gave Dustin Tokarski a one-way contract in free agency. It is a good one for the player, he will get paid $775,000 even though he is the third goalie on the depth chart and ticketed to start the season in Wilkes-Barre, barring an unexpected circumstance in training camp. That’s a lot of money for an insurance policy, but will not hurt the Pittsburgh salary cap and is about all they can do to build depth at the position.

Filip Lindberg isn’t truly a rookie, but only was able to play seven AHL games in the first few weeks of the season before suffering a season-ending injury, so he might as well be. He is a high-ceiling player that many in the organization are very high on, had he not been injured last year there is a very good chance he would have been given a chance to play in the NHL with the other injuries around.

Outlook

The goalie position is so important in hockey that it is best to minimize question marks. Casey DeSmith has had his ups and downs but has graded out to be one of the league’s top performing backup goalies over the past few seasons. Jarry has had his peaks and valleys as well, and now in a contract year will be hungry to finally prove that he can lead the team in the playoffs. The organization is stocked behind them as well as can be planned, with the team paying a premium for a 33-year old “AAAA” type goalie with 76 career NHL games in Tokarski and also a talented youngster in Lindberg.

The Pens don’t have a Shesterkin or an Andrei Vasilievskiy, but they are built from top to bottom to have depth and talent throughout the position and across the organization. The challenge and questions will be how to keep Jarry upright, healthy, confident and ready to peak for the playoffs.

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