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Penguins Start Nedeljkovic Again; Sure Looks Like a Goalie Controversy



Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Nedeljkovic

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can sidestep labels and massage the words, but the Penguins seem to have a good old-fashioned goalie controversy with Alex Nedeljkovic and Tristan Jarry.

The situation has arisen not because the presumptive No. 1 goalie, Jarry, has faltered but because Nedeljkovic has begun tapping into the staring goalie potential he carried into his rookie season back in 2020-21.

Nedeljkovic, 28, will start Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, his second straight start and fourth appearance in the last five games.

Sullivan’s simple explanation avoided the bigger question.

“When you guys ask me these questions, I give you the same answer. And I’ll give you that answer again,” Sullivan said. “When we’re making decisions with respect to lineups, we’re always trying to ask the question, which group of players, which lineup gives us the best chance to win? We think Ned is playing extremely well right now, and he’s deserving of playing.”

Nedeljkovic has been part of the Penguins rapid turnaround since they cratered against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 16. Nedeljkovoc has played in seven of the 10 games since then and eight of 11, counting the Toronto debacle.

In that time, Nedeljkovic is 5-1-1 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against-average. Jarry has a .909 save percentage in four games with a 2-2-0 record.

The Penguins have solidified their position in the standings, firmly ensconced in the wild card race as one of seven teams within a couple of points of the playoff spot.

Nedeljkovic has won his last two starts, including a 36-save performance as the Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 Monday at the Wells Fargo Center.

In 2020-21, Nedeljkovic was to be the starting goalie of the future for the Carolina Hurricanes. However, then-general manager Ron Francis might not have been sold on the goalie’s future. Nedeljkovic was an RFA, and rather than sign him to an expensive contract, Carolina traded Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings for a third-rounder.

Two seasons of inconsistent play behind a rebuilding team, injuries, and AHL demotions spelled the end of Nedeljkovic’s Detroit tenure.

On July 1, the Penguins signed Jarry to a five-year, $26.875 million deal. That was the same day they signed Nedeljkovic to a one-year, $1.5 million deal, presumably to be the backup after Jarry battled injuries throughout last season.

Teams don’t pay goalies north of $5 million to watch, but Nedeljkovic has forced the issue with stellar play. And the Penguins need wins.

Overall, Jarry has a .912 save percentage but an 11-12-2 record. Nedeljkovic has emerged with a .922 stopper rate and an 8-3-2 record.

It’s not a “recent” hot streak that has put Nedeljkovic in the net, but a season’s worth of strong play.

The recent trend across the NHL, highlighted by last season’s Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup run, has been goaltending tandems that are at least two-deep, if not more. Vegas used four goalies, but in the playoffs, teams ride one goalie.

Eventually, teams settle on one. Nedeljkovic is making his case, and Sullivan is letting him. Even without the label, the Penguins have a healthy goalie competition, or if you prefer, a goalie controversy.