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Kingerski: Sullivan Starting Nedeljkovic, Not Jarry, Speaks Volumes



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Alex Nedeljkovic, Tristan Jarry

ELMONT, NY — The Pittsburgh Penguins will close their 2023-24 season Wednesday against the New York Islanders at UBS Arena. They were oh-so-close to erasing an impossible nine-point deficit that existed as late as March 27 and qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, the locker room was dealing with the bitter taste of disappointment after they didn’t get the necessary help and losses Tuesday.

However, as it has been since the Penguins turnaround began on March 24, coach Mike Sullivan will start Alex Nedeljkovic in the net Wednesday. That’s 14 straight games.

It’s not often, if ever, that a franchise’s No. 1 goalie is iced for the month of a regular season. Nedeljkovic will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 unless Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas tackles him and refuses to let him leave without signing a new contract on breakup day, which will occur in the next couple or few days.

So what does it say that Sullivan abandoned Jarry in the Penguins’ time of need and turned exclusively to Nedeljkovic?

It probably says more than Sullivan would care to admit.

Message to Jarry?

Jarry’s last start was in Dallas on March 22. The Penguins had a rough day in the 4-2 loss, which wasn’t that close. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson deflected one shot past Jarry, then bumped him, allowing the second to float across the line.

The Stars’ third goal deflected off defenseman Jack St. Ivany in the crease. The fourth was a third-period thorough undressing of defenseman Erik Karlsson, allowing Sam Steel a point-blank shot from between the circles.

Jarry didn’t skate away from the net as goalies often do. No, his icy stare toward the Penguins bench after the goal was rife with conjecture and discussion amongst us chattering class. What did it mean? Did it mean anything? Was he simply trying to get a message to his team to collectively stop helping the opponents?

Pittsburgh Penguins, Trisan Jarry

Sullivan pulled Jarry during the third period in favor of Nedeljkovic. It’s not often goalies get pulled in the third period after allowing only four, either.

Your guess is as good as ours. Jarry hasn’t spoken since the game. He didn’t even speak postgame. He didn’t speak following relieving Nedeljkovic last Monday in the Penguins 6-4 loss to the Boston Bruins. Instead, Nedeljkovic owned up to his rough game in front of the prying media cameras and reporters’ questions.

Nedeljkovic Changes the Team

Take the recent compliments Sullivan heaped on Nedeljkovic after the Penguins 6-5 OT victory over the Detroit Red Wings on April 11. Exhibit A.

“He’s making timely saves, and he’s finding ways to help us win games. And I think there’s something to that. I just love his compete level. I love his battle level. His demeanor,” Sullivan said.

“So I think he’s really competing hard in there. And I think he’s finding ways to help us win games.”

Sure, he’s complimented Jarry over the years, but Sullivan’s comments for Nedeljkovic were personal.

Nedeljkovic’s appearance after the Boston game was a moment, too.

Players willing to face the music are a dying breed. It’s too easy to bolt the locker room in the five minutes before we’re supposed to get in (So many times, those of us on this side take heat for not asking questions about a particular moment, but so often, players aren’t available). Nedeljkovic’s re-emergence in the room spoke to many things: his character, forthrightness, and, I dare say, leadership.

It’s Nedeljkovic’s Team

With nothing left to play for but pride, Sullivan is letting Nedeljkovic finish the wild ride that he and the team started. At the very least, he’s showing appreciation for the hard charge.

Somewhere along the way, the Penguins seem to have become Nedeljkovic’s team. Sullivan pushed all-in with Nedeljkovic, even during the times he wasn’t sharp during the stretch run.

He chose a No. 1 goalie, and it wasn’t Jarry.

The decisions show that Sullivan was not concerned with the future or Jarry’s ego. Though cliche, he went with the goalie he thought gave the Penguins the best chance to win, not necessarily the more talented goalie but the one who made his team better.

It’s hard to argue the team’s performance behind Nedeljkovic. He and Jarry have nearly identical save percentage stats, but Jarry is only 19-25-5, while Nedeljkovic is 18-6-7.

Double-check those numbers. Nedeljkovic has one fewer win despite playing 18 fewer games and drawing the tougher end of the back-to-backs because he was the backup goalie.


While the team may disagree, it also seems that Jarry must regain trust. For the biggest games this season, the coaches trusted his understudy more than him. Jarry is signed for four more years with a $5.375 million AAV, and unless Dubas moves him along this summer, he will need to reestablish his position with the team.

If he didn’t give it away, it was taken away.

And that might be the biggest obstacle moving forward.