Goaltenders have a reputation of being, uh, what’s the right word?
Eccentric? Quirky? Odd? Goofy? All of the above?
Given that, Penguins rookie Tristan Jarry seems downright average. In personality, anyway. He’s looking like something above that as a hockey player.
Making his first NHL start since Jan. 17 and playing for the first time since a Feb. 3 start in AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Jarry made 35 saves Sunday night in a 5-2 Penguins win at Columbus. He improved to 5-1-0 in his past six NHL decisions.
“I thought Tristan made some real timely saves,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Fellow Penguins rookie Zach Aston-Reese is one of several young players who have gotten to know Jarry – with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with the “Black Aces” taxi squad called up during the playoffs and as one of the players living out of the same hotel during call-ups to the NHL.
While the older Penguins have been welcoming, the youngsters tend to do some carpooling or go to dinner together just because it makes logistical sense. Aston-Reese confirms that Jarry fits in just fine.
“He’s a good guy, and a good teammate,” Aston-Reese said, then laughed. “We put the goalie thing aside for him. Goalies have always been kind of their own type. But Jarry’s a great guy. Even when I was down at Wilkes, the times he would come down, he always had a great attitude. That’s why he’s gotten the call back up.”
More Work Than Expected
Jarry, 22, had no idea whether or how much he might play at the NHL level this season. While he dressed as the backup for some playoff games each of the past two springs because of injuries, he had just one NHL game on his resume.
Then the Penguins brought in veteran Antti Niemi last offseason to serve as Matt Murray’s backup, which relegated Jarry to No. 3 in the organization. Niemi flamed out quickly, however, and Jarry found himself in the NHL less than a month into the season.
“I was able to come up here and play a lot of games up here (early in) the season,” he said. “I think that was something that really helped me, really helped me with my confidence and being able to be at this level and see that I can play here.”
It’s continued to be something of a whirlwind. Jarry had a four-game winning streak in the NHL, but he was also sent back to Wilkes-Barre to get some playing time as the Penguins flipped Jarry and Casey DeSmith and gave DeSmith a shot at some time as the backup.
There has been no sourness from Jarry. Quite the opposite.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s great for me and Casey that we both get to play and we both get a chance at this level. We both have to develop, and there’s no better way than to switch back and forth.”
Jarry’s play during his most recent AHL stint backs that up. He won all three of his starts, giving up a total of just five goals and stopping 80 of 85 shots.
During his time with the big club, Jarry has had a couple of runs with a lot of playing time while Murray missed some time. And there have been slow times, such as the previous five games before Sunday after his Feb. 3 recall.
Still, Jarry — taken in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft, one year after the Penguins plucked Murray in the third round — ranks second this season among NHL rookie goalies with 10 wins, one behind Vegas’ Malcolm Subban.
Still Behind the Learning Curve
Jarry is 10-4-2 this season at the NHL level, with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, plus two shutouts. He considers his game very much a work in progress, which seems appropriate for a third-year pro.
Striving for constant improvement is nothing new. In sports, it’s practically cliché. If you’re not trying to get better every day, you’re dogging it.
But Jarry has what seems like a mature and healthy take on that riff, one that takes into consideration the many nuances of goaltending technique.
“There’s a million different ways to do a single thing,” he said. “Everyone has their own way, and everyone is able to do it a different way, and every way works differently for a different person. It’s finding what works best for you and maybe tweaking it so it can work better.”
At a recent practice in Cranberry, while play was in Murray’s end of the rink, Jarry spent his few minutes of down time working on his post-to-post movements with goaltending coach Mike Buckley. Jarry slid to his right at something less than half-pace, looked to Buckley for feedback, then repeated the process sliding the other way.
Like Murray, Jarry seems to put a lot of faith in working with Buckley and credited that work with helping him play Sunday without much rust.
“There are different tricks you can learn every day,” Jarry said. “I think it’s just about always trying to learn, always trying to keep up and get better. I think that’s a big thing for me. Every day I want to learn, and every day I want to get better. That’s something that you need people to help you with, and ‘Buck’ is always there when Matt and I need him.”
There’s no telling what will happen with Jarry down the stretch run and in the playoffs. If he falters even a little, the Penguins could switch back to DeSmith. If Jarry remains with the big club and serves as Murray’s backup in the playoffs, he won’t get a sniff of the ice if everything goes as well.
But it doesn’t always go according to plan. Witness the Penguins needing two or three goalies during their Stanley Cup runs the past two years.
“Every year’s different,” Jarry said. “Every situation you go into might not be ideal. It’s just something that you take in stride, and you have to be able to play with.”