Connect with us


Penguins Notebook: Goalie Envy; Carter, Rust & Difference Makers



Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic

The National Hockey League is bereft of quality goaltenders. It seems those who have one, have several. Those who are missing one, have none. To the surprise of some, the Pittsburgh Penguins fall into the former.

Ok, come clean. The summer featured overflowing comments sections and social media beatdowns of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry and the Penguins, usually blamed on Mike Sullivan, for re-signing Jarry to a five-year deal with a $5.375 million salary cap hit.

The howls and dissent were thick.

You can admit it. Taking Jarry’s body of work over the last four years, he’s been one of the better goalies in the NHL. With the league-wide save percent swoon this season and Jarry holding steady at .916, it’s an All-Star-worthy performance.

You can join me on the bandwagon of admitting fault in knocking Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas for taking a chance on backup tendy Alex Nedeljkovic. The gregarious Cleveland native has a .917 save percentage and is pushing Jarry for playing time.

Contrast the Penguins’ situation with the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, and Ottawa Senators. Goaltending has been a root cause for continuing struggles with Ottawa and Buffalo while holding back New Jersey and Edmonton.

Toronto starter Ilya Samsonov has recently imploded, so we’re about to find out how shoddy netminding is going to affect another Stanley Cup contender.

Coaches often get too much credit for success and too much blame for failure, especially in hockey. Still, it does seem the Penguins goaltending uptick began a couple of years ago when former GM Ron Hextall promoted Andy Chiodo to goalie coach.

“(Chiodo) does a really good job (keeping goalies ready). He builds great relationships with his goalies. I think they sincerely admire and respect him,” said Sullivan. “I think he’s a very transparent guy in the sense that his sole motivation is to help those guys be at their best, and they know it. And I can tell you, he does everything in his power to try to set those guys up for success. He’s a great voice of reason for them.”

Jarry’s 2022-23 season was marred by injury, but former backup Casey DeSmith continued to make adjustments and eventually became a solid option in the second half of the season.

This season, the Penguins have the second-best save percentage in the league (.917), trailing only Boston (.921).

Jeff Carter & Difference Makers

Carter earned criticism early in the season for his mediocre play. He didn’t hide from it, even as he endured the first healthy scratches in his career against San Jose and Anaheim in November.

It seemed like the end for the 38-year-old forward

We held a little press conference in a dark hallway of Anaheim’s municipal rink practice facility, seemingly lit only by a row of yellow-tinted tunnel lights. It had a moribund feeling from start to finish, even as Carter raised his chin to answer the tough questions.

Since then, Carter has been a better player. Serendipity forced him back into the Penguins’ lineup in Los Angeles, where he won two Stanley Cups, and from where the Penguins acquired him in 2021.

“I feel good about (my game),” Carter told PHN. “I’m keeping it simple, and I think our line has been solid defensively. That’s what we’re here to do. So, yeah, a lot of D-zone responsibilities.”

Those ineffective gliding forechecks have become more purposeful, and the Penguins’ fourth line has become functional.

The other difference maker is Noel Accairi. He might not be the crash-bang Tazmanian Devil that some of us expected, but his effect on the Penguins’ results is tangible.

The penalty kill is measurably better with Acciari in the lineup, killing about 87% of the chances against. Without Acciari, for nearly three weeks in December, the team killed only 70%.

Given the Penguins’ power play struggles, a swooning penalty kill is an immediate deficit.

A stable fourth line is also a plus. The fourth line with Carter and Acciari (since Carter returned to the lineup on Nov. 9 vs. LA) has scored only three goals in 15 games but allowed only one.

Bryan Rust

Rust won’t play Saturday against St. Louis, but his presence back in the Penguins lineup, coupled with the reinvigorated Rickard Rakell, can only mean good things for the Penguins lineup.

“He’s going to make any line he plays on better with just an overall game,” Sullivan said. “He’s just a good hockey player on both sides of the puck.”

The Penguins need to accelerate their climb back in the standings. New Jersey is also making a charge, as is Tampa Bay. With games in hand, the Penguins have the 10th-best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference. They’ve won five of their last seven and have points in six, but they dug a deep hole.