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Kingerski: Give Casey DeSmith More Starts

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Casey DeSmith made 35 saves Thursday night in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Saturday, DeSmith made 37 saves in the 4-3 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens, who spent most of the game in the Penguins zone. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan called DeSmith the Penguins best player on Thursday. He was the same or close again on Saturday.

“He was terrific,” Sullivan said Saturday.

DeSmith, 27, is neither a big franchise goalie or an up and coming star. Instead, the goalie with only 16 career NHL appearances simply stops pucks. Without fanfare or expectations, he makes enough saves to give his team a chance to win. He and defenseman Jack Johnson were big-time players when killing off a five-on-three at the end of the second period.

“That five-on-three was huge,” said DeSmith. “If they get one there, it’s a different game. Kudos to all of the killers for pulling that one out.”

A goaltender is the most important penalty killer, so kudos to the goalie, too.

After 40 minutes Saturday, the Penguins had only 11 shots, and Montreal had outshot them 27-11. Montreal out-attempted the Penguins 26-5 in the second period, alone. A bad goal or a misplay by the Penguins goaltender would have only added more fuel to the Canadiens attack. Instead, the teams were tied 3-3, after two periods.

It’s time DeSmith gets his just deserves.

“I was happy with how I played tonight. I was seeing the puck really well again tonight,” DeSmith said. Though he also noted he wants to work on a few things, “There a few things I want to work on. I’m not happy at all with the shootout.”

DeSmith was beaten cleanly on the stick side for two shootout goals in two attempts which lead to the Penguins 4-3 shootout loss, Saturday.

More Starts for DeSmith–Protect Murray

The Penguins should give DeSmith a bigger role, including more starts. Not just a couple more starts, several more sprinkled between Matt Murray starts.

There are no awards or medals for a goalie who plays 60 games. Given Murray’s injury struggles and recent concussions, it’s time to give DeSmith more starts not just because he’s played well, but to protect Murray, too.

DeSmith played for the injured Murray over the past two games. Murray could have played Saturday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was cryptic about his decision to play DeSmith, “Our coaching staff feels its the right decisions for a lot of reasons.”

What are those reasons beyond Murray coming back from a concussion?

Left unsaid was Murray was not on top his game in the first couple games and was as sharp last season, either. Murray gave the Capitals a couple of softies in the season opener and like the rest of his team wasn’t good against Montreal in the Penguins second game, too.

And Murray’s injury history, eight injuries in 113 NHL appearances, gives the Penguins every incentive to limit Murray’s starts if there’s a backup goaltender able to provide the Penguins a chance to win.

DeSmith is that goalie.

PHN research on a younger Matt Murray in 2017 revealed young goaltenders often encounter a dip in performance somewhere around 80 games played, as opponents adjust to their strengths and weaknesses. As a backup DeSmith will not reach that number of games played this season, and the Penguins can be selective when and how to deploy their backup.

DeSmith can be a huge asset for the Penguins, simultaneously able to win games, lower the risk of Murray injury, and even push Murray for some playing time. The last goalie who pushed Murray for ice time, some guy named Marc-Andre Fleury, brought out the best in Murray.

The Penguins have a lot to gain by turning loose DeSmith. An older, minor league backup Ty Conklin pushed Fleury for starts in 2008. The 2007-08 Penguins won the Eastern Conference as Fleury responded to the challenge. The results were 34 pounds of silver in 2016 and 2017 when Murray pushed Fleury and Fleury pushed Murray.

The Penguins have more to gain than lose by playing DeSmith more often. DeSmith can play a big role for the Penguins on the ice and on the bench.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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