Going back to last March, Pittsburgh Penguins backup goalie Casey DeSmith has allowed four or more goals in seven of his last nine starts. Saturday night, DeSmith stopped only 18 of 23 shots and only one was unavoidable.
Conversely, Penguins starter Tristan Jarry lost only three of his last 24 decisions and allowed four goals just twice this season and only six times in his last 26 games.
The is a growing disparity between the Penguins affable goalies. And GM Ron Hextall must be aware of it.
Is it time to start peeking at the NHL trade market for a backup? Or play DeSmith more?
“I think that the start to the season for Casey, as you know, is probably not going as well as he would like or we would like. That being said, I think that some of the situations we’ve used him–with long breaks in between–it makes it difficult for a goaltender,” acting head coach Todd Reirden said. “I think that’s something that we’ve got to get him back in there and get him more minutes and shorter time in between starts. I think (that) will help alleviate some of that problem.”
Maybe, but can the Penguins afford the gamble of dropping another couple of games? Coaches have tapped DeSmith to start three times in 13 games; that’s about the average load for a backup goalie without several back-to-backs.
Being ready is part of the job description.
Jarry is growing into a legitimate starting goalie among the league leaders with a .929 save percentage–where he was in 2019-20 when he made the All-Star Game and elbowed past former starting goalie Matt Murray.
DeSmith, 30, is a smaller goalie. At 6-foot, he’s almost tiny by current NHL standards. He’s always been athletic, but DeSmith was unable to track pucks through traffic on Saturday–a continuing trend–nor was DeSmith able to keep up or maintain form with pucks that changed direction.
Of the first four Ottawa goals, none were unstoppable.
Is it time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to look seriously for a backup goalie?
Sources told PHN that the Penguins management team with Brian Burke and Hextall were interested in an experienced backup goalie over the summer. Burke downplayed that push last month on 93-7 the Fan, but my reading of those tea leaves is the lack of movement may be more a result of a bad market than a lack of interest.
The Penguins discussed it enough that a source confirmed explorations.
The Penguins need better. It’s been quite a while since DeSmith’s eight-game run last March, in which he allowed two or fewer goals in eight straight while starting for the injured Jarry.
The underlying question Penguins GM Ron Hextall must ask is if DeSmith was exposed during his run last season, or if this is just a bad stretch. Being exposed is a legitimate worry for a goalie without a blue-chip pedigree.
The Penguins suddenly have goaltending depth in their organization. First-year pro Filip Lindberg was the AHL Goalie of the Month in October. Louis Domingue has a .921 save percentage in five AHL games this season.
Domingue has also played 141 NHL games, which is almost double DeSmith’s 72 career games.
Domingue was an emergency call-up on Saturday and watched from the goalie perch on the bench. It’s not out of the question to give him a shot. Domingue’s attitude was nothing short of exuberant in training camp. He and goalie coach Andy Chiodo connected in a way that re-fired Domingue’s interest in the game.
It’s been a long time since an athlete looked me in the eyes and conveyed that much emotion and eagerness to play. The feeling was confirmed by a few other crusty media types who had to catch their breath after Domingue wrapped up.
Domingue was also very good in training camp. He stole a win with 15 third-period saves as the Penguins minor league roster beat Buffalo’s NHL roster in the preseason.
NHL Trade Block
If it’s not Domingue, Hextall might be wise to start the shopping process. The Pittsburgh Penguins are near the bottom in the Metro Division and every point matters. The Penguins are essentially .500 with a 5-4-4 record. Two of the regulation losses are DeSmith’s in just three starts.
And no, Marc-Andre Fleury is not in the Penguins price range unless Chicago wants to eat salary and take on more salary. There’s no good reason Chicago would do that, especially now that the team is back on the right track after a dark October of scandal and distraction.
No, a few goalies are floating about who could be had as teams realize they’re not as good as they want or have more than they need. Dallas could soon have three goalies on the NHL roster and an NHL calibre goalie in the AHL very soon. Braden Holtby makes just $2 million and would be worth a phone call.
Joonas Korpisalo is now the backup to Elvis Merzlikins in Columbus and makes $2.8 million. He’ll be a UFA next summer.
Petr Mrazek is injured, but Toronto has to pay Jack Campbell next season and Mrazek makes $3.8 million for this season and two more. Mrazek is a professional 1A goalie and has 277 games of NHL experience.
One thinks he might not be too expensive on the NHL trade market, and Toronto might backtrack on their free-agent signing because Campbell has been great this season.
DeSmith makes $1.25 million. If the Penguins send him to the WBS Penguins to make room for a backup, they will recoup $1.05 million in “stashed contract,” making a $2-$3 million goalie attainable with just a little tinkering or salary help.
Hextall has a few questions to answer. And so does DeSmith. The current run of not giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a chance to win can’t continue.