They were the final six words Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry spoke Friday in his season wrap-up interview with reporters.
“I will be better next year.”
How those words will be received no doubt depends greatly on the perception of who is listening.
While many outside the Penguins organization — based on things such as social media, sports talk shows and comment sections – heavily blame Jarry for the team’s loss in six games to the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs and even are calling for his ouster from the team, Jarry sees his performance as something of a starting point, a place from which to build after his first season as a No. 1 NHL goalie.
“Obviously, there are a lot of expectations, a lot of things to learn,” Jarry said. “I think it was a bit of an up-and-down year for me, just playing the games I did. … I think I was able to pick it up and play a lot of good hockey.
“And then in the playoffs I think you obviously wish it would have gone better. I think there were some things I could (have done) differently and some things that I could learn from.
“I think next year there’s a lot of room for improvement for me.”
Jarry was 25-9-3 during the COVID-19-shortened regular season with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
In the playoffs, where he played all six games with backup Casey DeSmith injured, Jarry’s record against the Islanders matched the Penguins’ – 2-4. He had a 3.18 goals-against average and save percentage of .888 that easily could set off alarm bells.
The Islanders at times seemed to successfully target the high glove side against Jarry.
And then there was that gaffe early in double overtime in Game 5 when he made an ill-advised clearing attempt that was easily picked off by New York’s Josh Bailey, then flailed at a save attempt as Bailey scored the winner.
Jarry didn’t address that or any play specifically but acknowledged his shortcomings.
“Obviously, it didn’t go the way I wanted, and I think it’s just learning from it and getting better,” he said. “I think being able to learn from that experience, that was my first time playing in postseason games consecutively.
“Just being able to learn from that, learn from the goals I let in, learn from the mistakes that I had, I think that will make me a better person and a better goalie. I think those are experiences you can hold with you for a lifetime and just learn from it. I think that’s something that I’ll reflect on over the summer and come back better next year from.”
Will that still be with the Penguins, who drafted Jarry, 26, in the second round in 2014? And if so, will the team bring in a veteran goalie to push or even displace him?
“That’s their decision,” Jarry said. “It’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s up to them. It’s up to management.
“Having a good summer, pushing myself and then coming back as the best version of myself is all I can do.”
In the 36 hours or so after the Penguins lost the series, Jarry said he heard from several people in the hockey world – presumably other goalies and mentors – who offered him encouragement.
“I’ve had quite a few, actually, reach out,” he said. “That was something that was uplifting and something that will help me get through it. It will motivate me and push me to be better next year. That’s something I’m able to bounce off those guys. Those guys are there to help, and I think that’s always (good) to have that hockey family around the league.”
Jarry spoke with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, too, of course.
“We talked about his development as a player, some of the positive things and the progress he’s made, and some of the areas he could get better,” Sullivan said, declining to offer further details of their conversation.
Some of Jarry’s teammates offered support of Jarry in their wrap-up interviews Friday.
“I truly believe he’s a No. 1 goalie,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Another defenseman, Mike Matheson, was staunch in his defense of Jarry.
“It doesn’t affect (the) confidence that I have in him. No chance” Matheson said of Jarry’s postseason performance. “I think he’s one of the best goalies in the league.
“I know there’s been a lot of attention and a lot of blame on him through the series, but I think that’s unfair. It’s a team game, and through each game we made a lot of mistakes throughout the lineup. To think that you can narrow it down to one person or one position … is unfair.
“It was six games of back-and-forth play. At the end of the day they got the best of it. There’s a lot of reasons for that. It’s not just one.”
Jarry, who said he will keep a normal offseason of a little rest followed by getting back into training, insisted his confidence is not shaken.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I played a lot of good hockey this year. I played a lot of games and went through a lot of learning and teaching moments.”