CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – It was a bit of a weird scene Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. The Pittsburgh Penguins practiced on one rink, without No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray, who has a concussion. Their top affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, had a staggered start by a half-hour on the complex’s other rink, including goaltender Tristan Jarry.
Afterward, Casey DeSmith, the Penguins’ backup goaltender who is expected to start Thursday when the Vegas Golden Knights visit PPG Paints Arena, was talking about his opportunity. “I’d like to prove that I’m an everyday starter in this league,” DeSmith said. “I’m going to make the most of the starts I have.”
Outside an auxiliary locker room down the hall a little later, Jarry indicated he is healthy and ready to back up DeSmith if the Penguins recall him. Or start or back up in Cleveland, where Wilkes-Barre plays Thursday – a weekend series that made it logical for Wilkes-Barre (1-0-0) to make a stopover in Pittsburgh.
“I’m rested and ready to go,” said Jarry, who got an apparent leg injury late in Penguins (that’s Pittsburgh, not Wilkes-Barre) training camp and eventually was sent to the American Hockey League team, but who hasn’t played since the injury. “It was a good week practicing and just getting back into things.”
One thing that seemed more normal was the Penguins’ practice. The line combinations were the same as they have been a for a while, and the defensive pairings were the same as they have been since they were revamped Monday following Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Montreal.
It still appears that defenseman Juuso Riikola will make his Penguins and NHL debut against Vegas, while Olli Maatta comes out of the lineup. Maatta skated much longer than any other player Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of center Derek Grant, the Penguins’ extra forward who apparently was put on waivers to make way for a goalie (guess who that might be) in what coach Mike Sullivan indicated was a matter of roster flexibility.
Murray, who got hurt Monday during practice, was at the training facility Wednesday and was up and about. That could be an indication that his symptoms are not the severe type that have kept some people with concussions sheltered in dark, quiet rooms. Sullivan had no updates on Murray and said of any possibility of him playing Thursday, “We’ll make that decision (Thursday).”
If Grant clears waivers Thursday and is sent to Wilkes-Barre, with Jarry being recalled, the Penguins will not have to put Murray on injured reserve.
It appeared that Jarry was falling behind DeSmith in the competition for the backup spot behind Murray before he got hurt, but who knows what might have happened?
“It’s always tough when you’re injured,” Jarry said. “It’s just (a matter of) getting your body ready and getting back as quickly as you can.”
If he had been told to hang back in Pittsburgh or that he would get called up, Jarry wasn’t revealing it.
“I just need to stay ready,” he said. “You never know on any given day where you might be and what might happen. It’s just (about) being prepared and making sure you’re taking care of things.”
While he’s ready to dress for a game again, Jarry figures he made the most of his downtime.
“I think (my game) is progressing, getting better and better every day,” he said. “I think getting in these practices and being able to work on those things that you might not be able to when you’re playing every day, it was good to have a little rest and then just be able to get back into things and play games now.”
The question is, where will that be?
Jarry not only got hurt and apparently fell behind DeSmith for the backup job with Pittsburgh, but he also was the easier of the two to send to the AHL because he did not require going through waivers.
“I try not to focus on it,” Jarry said of those sorts of details. “They’re telling me the business standpoint of it, and it’s confusing. It’s higher-up people that make those decisions. It’s way above my pay grade.”