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Do Sullivan, Penguins Still Have Faith in Tristan Jarry?

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Tristan Jarry

CRANBERRY — Tristan Jarry entered the 2023-24 season as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ franchise goaltender, owner of a new five-year, $26,875,000 contract, as well as the unqualified confidence of the coaching staff and management.

He exited it as Alex Nedeljkovic’s backup for 11 of the Penguins’ final 13 games — the only exceptions being when Jarry was too ill to dress for games in Manhattan and New Jersey — and as the subject of considerable speculation about whether he has a future with the franchise.

Sure, most, if not all, of those questions about Jarry’s place with the Penguins were coming from outside the organization, but given Nedeljkovic’s prominent role in the team’s late-season run at a playoff berth, it seemed a reasonable topic for discussion.

That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and with Nedeljkovic eligible to test the market as an unrestricted free agent unless he is re-signed by July 1, uncertainty figures to swirl around the position for at least a little while.

But regardless of what the Penguins’ goaltending situation looks like in the fall, coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday that the team’s confidence in Jarry remains intact.

“I thought (Nedeljkovic) played terrific down the stretch,” Sullivan said. “That was one of the reasons why we chose to put him in goal. That doesn’t diminish our belief in Tristan at all. … We chose to go with what we deemed the hot hand down the stretch. That’s not a slight on Tristan, by any stretch. We believe that Tristan is a solid NHL goalie.”

Jarry logged just 36 minutes, 32 seconds of playing time during those final 13 games — all of it coming in a pair of relief appearances — as the Penguins made a spirited bid to qualify for postseason play. That means Jarry rarely did anything more strenuous than to clap and shout encouragement on most game nights during the final weeks of the regular season.

“It’s tough,” Jarry said. “You obviously want to be out there, battling with them. You want to be a part of it. The best thing I could do in that situation was just to be a good teammate and help (Nedeljkovic) as much as I could. He did a great job. He won us a lot of games.”

Eight of the 13, to be precise.

Jarry had been penciled in to start the Devils game April 2, but missed it because he was ill, and suggested he didn’t necessarily expect to be called upon again because Nedeljkovic was on such a good roll.

“It’s tough to say,” Jarry said. “He was playing so well and he was doing such a great job that I think in that position, you just have to support him. … You just have to be prepared in case your name does get called.”

It actually was a couple of times: March 24 at Colorado, when Jarry stepped in briefly for Nedeljkovic during the third period and last Saturday, when Boston scored on Nedeljkovic three times in 16 shots.

Jarry ended up absorbing the loss against the Bruins, his final game action of the season.

He finished with a 19-25-5 record in 51 appearances, 48 of them starts, and recorded a 2.91 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

“Honestly, I thought it was pretty good,” Jarry said. “There were some stretches that I thought could be better and there were some stretches to learn from, obviously, but I think that I had a pretty good year. I was healthy the whole year. I was able to be available for every game, so I think that was a step in the right direction.”

He acknowledged, though, that there are more steps to be taken.

“I think there were … a couple of weeks where I could have been better, I could have been more consistent,” he said. “It would have helped the team more and I think it would have put us in a better position.”

Perhaps one that didn’t compel Sullivan and his staff to rely exclusively on one goaltender through the final weeks of the season.