It’s funny how things work out. Before the Pittsburgh Penguins season veered off the map due to a never-ending stream of injuries, the salary cap weighed heavily on the team and GM Jim Rutherford. Trade winds swirled, and someone had to go. As a result, the Penguins kept Tristan Jarry as the backup goalie to Matt Murray because Jarry’s salary was less than Casey DeSmith’s and because the Penguins didn’t believe Jarry would slip through waivers.
It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Jarry, which provided him the NHL sweater for opening night.
Penguins Head coach Mike Sullivan was conspicuously evasive when asked about the decision to keep Jarry. Sullivan’s answer quickly turned to praise of DeSmith and a discussion of finances, not praise of Jarry. (You can read the original story here).
Yet here we are.
It is the beginning of the second real goalie controversy in Pittsburgh under Sullivan and first since Murray claimed the net from Marc-Andre Fleury in 2016. Since the Penguins will not skate Friday morning, we won’t know Sullivan’s choice to face the Arizona Coyotes until 5 p.m.
Will Sullivan maintain the new platoon or stick with Jarry’s hot hand?
Wednesday night, Jarry submitted one of his best performances of the season in the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 shutout of the St. Louis Blues. It wasn’t as acrobatic as his 45-saves performance in Tampa Bay on Oct. 23, but instead, Jarry was steady, calm, and on top of the crease. It didn’t look as spectacular as some of Jarry’s other performances, but in many ways, it was better. Jarry showed good anticipation and confidence.
“I thought he was terrific. He made some big saves for us throughout the course of the game,” Sullivan said. “He was good on the penalty kill. A lot of times, your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer. He was (Wednesday). He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He saw the puck well.”
“He plays the puck well, too, which is an added benefit.”
Jarry’s rebound control has also been especially good this season.
“That was a big thing last year (the coaches) wanted me to improve on, just managing my rebounds, so the other team doesn’t get an opportunity,” Jarry replied before getting into a little more detail about how he is doing it. “Just being more fluid and seeing the puck well. It helps when you’re seeing the puck.”
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OK, no one said Jarry was the best postgame quote on the team. After being told he had to improve his practice habits, limit rebounds, Jarry also understands Sullivan values a level of seriousness. Jarry has done his best to present a mature image this season. He is performing to expectations in that regard, too.
The statistics tell a bold story in which Jarry has well outplayed Murray this season. The eye test shows a couple of stories which are complementary to Jarry but not as damaging to Murray as the statistics.
In only a 10-game sample size, Jarry has a .936 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average in 10 games. In 20 games, Murray has posted pedestrian numbers, which include an .897 save percentage and 2.84 goals against average.
Yeah, the statistics are really damaging to Murray, whose few leaky moments this season have recently gathered momentum. Using advanced statistics which are still a bit controversial, Murray is again underwater in quality save percentage (QS). After posting a .580 QS last season, which is very good, he’s at .450 this season, which is well below average.
Murray’s goals saved above average is also significantly down from last season in which he was well into the positive territory, +14.67. This season, Murray has plummeted to a negative-6.59.
Jarry, as you may expect, is crushing the statistics. A good QS is .600. Jarry is at .875. Jarry is already at +8.75 goals saved above average.
It’s easy to call Jarry young because, at 24-years-old, he has only 39 games of NHL experience. NHL shooters have not yet picked him apart and found a weakness. Murray is only one year old but already has a few battle scars. He thrived on the biggest stages as he won a pair of Stanley Cups before his rookie status expired. Murray won the battle with Fleury. He persevered through a miserable first half last season to be dominant in the second half.
And that is why Murray won’t lose his job in December. Murray has proven himself to be a starting NHL goalie, even if his last few Novembers have been forgettable or even regrettable. Now, those annual stumbles have opened the door to someone with something to prove, who may not give the net back.
Last season, Murray’s early-season struggles led Sullivan to hand more starts to DeSmith but the net was still Murray’s whenever he was ready. However, what makes this year different is Jarry’s potential. The Penguins believe Jarry can be an NHL starter.
Jarry’s sample size is still too small to confirm his potential; that will take many more starts and time.
But heck yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins now have a goalie controversy.