There aren’t many ways to sugarcoat the Pittsburgh Penguins situation. There just aren’t. The Pittsburgh Penguins outplayed the New York Islanders for much of their Round One series. Unlike 2019 when the Penguins flailed and thrashed about in futile attempts, they controlled this series against the New York Islanders, but goalie Tristan Jarry buckled under the bright lights of the NHL playoffs.
The Penguins controlled play for a majority of the series, yet they still lost.
“I thought we got better as the series went on, and I think you look at two overtime games that we lost–being able to win one of those would have been huge. But I think we did a lot of good things,” Sidney Crosby said. “The last couple of games, I thought we played really well– (we) made some big mistakes tonight. I missed a guy, and a couple of chances end up in the back of the net.”
Crosby took some ownership, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. He did whiff on Anthony Beauvillier a couple of times. Jake Guentzel whiffed in Game 5.
Jake Guentzel or Jared McCann could have popped one more, too. No, the Penguins didn’t toss their goalie under the bus or publicly humiliate him (*ahem Mr. Ovechkin), but when the final accounting is done, the Penguins can’t answer the question: “What else could we have done” without starting with Jarry.
Unfortunately, so much of the series loss rests on the Penguins goaltending and Jarry. Three long-range wristers beat Jarry high-glove in Game 1 when the Penguins otherwise controlled play. There were other softies along the way, big rebounds served like pizzas, but the Penguins survived them in Games 2 and 3.
The Penguins couldn’t overcome Jarry backing into the net to give Anthony Beauvillier far too much net for the Islanders’ first goal in Game 5. And, of course, a play which will stick with Jarry for a long time–the tragic giveaway and flop against Josh Bailey to end Game 5.
And then Jarry’s collapse in Game 6. The big rebounds which ponged off Jarry like a rubber ball became Islanders’ goals. The whiffs against Brock Nelson and a point shot from Ryan Pulock.
In singularity, any of the goals are forgivable.
In totality, Jarry did not hold his end of the bargain. Sullivan called a timeout when the Penguins yielded three goals in less than three minutes in the second period. Two of three were stoppable. To many’s surprise, Sullivan left Jarry in the game.
“I’m not going to discuss the discussions we have as a coaching staff and the discussions we have at any position,” Sullivan said as he quickly shut down any discussion of the matter.
The Penguins blew third-period leads in three games (Games 1, 3, and 5) and coughed up leads in five of the six games, including three leads in Game 6.
The Penguins needed a big save that never came. And now, big questions loom both about Jarry’s future and about the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins core.
Will Sidney Crosby play another season with both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang?
Pittsburgh Hockey Now believes at least one, if not both, will return. Letang had a great season. Malkin battled injuries but was brilliant once he found his stride later in February.
There was no shortage of energy or production from either.
“You win games, and you lose games as a team…,” Sullivan said.
That’s three straight early playoff exits, and the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, like most businesses, has taken a beating through the pandemic. Per the NHL-NHLPA agreement, the salary cap will remain flat until the organizations recoup their lost revenues, but that will be over the course of several years.
Finances will play a role (and it could go either way–to retool or to keep the core together because they are likely to make the playoffs). Nor is the new Penguins regime led by President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and GM Ron Hextall known to prefer smaller, faster hockey in which the Penguins specialize.
“We didn’t lose because we weren’t big enough,” Sullivan said defiantly.
Changes must be made, but just how drastic?
Changes will be made…but just how drastic?
Sidney Crosby will turn 34 in August. Evgeni Malkin will be 35 in July. Kris Letang will be 35 next April. If the team keeps the Penguins core together, what becomes of Jarry?
Can the Penguins charge into another playoff series with a goalie who was not adequate in his first go as the starter?
Before Game 6, Jarry had a .902 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA; those stats belie the shakiness, rebounds, and close calls which resulted. After Game 6, his final tally bubbled around an .886 save percentage.
That’s not good enough.
Jarry was at times brilliant in the regular season. He thieved no less than 10 points this season. From this one to the ink and paper outlets, the headlines from media outlets often used the word “steal.”
But like so many goalies the Pittsburgh Penguins have broken in the postseason, New York broke Jarry. The glove hand issue seemed to appear out of nowhere. Whether it was a coached technique or a sudden bad habit, Jarry’s glove dangled by skates.
And the New York Islanders put pucks up high. Again, again..six, seven times, again.
In a series marked by missed chances and opportunity, the Islanders didn’t miss their chances. Jarry didn’t take them away, either. And he gifted one biggie.
But make one save, and it’s a different series. That must weigh on Jarry, who has waited for years for his chance. At 23-years-old, he was passed over for Matt Murray, which delayed his arrival by another year, maybe two. Now, he’s 26 and no longer a “young” goalie.
His big chance did not go the way anyone wanted it to go.
Now, let me address the Marc-Andre Fleury calls. That ship sailed. This writer was the very last person on that hill, but suddenly there’s a lot of folks who reappeared. But it’s over. Done. That was four years ago and not worth more than these three sentences.
Former GM Jim Rutherford tried in vain to get Fleury back. Vegas wisely pulled back. That situation is over.
Though you may harken back to Fleury’s playoff meltdowns in 2012, 2013 and his stick-handling gaffes in 2014 for a frame of reference to a goalie finding his groove after disastrous playoff appearances.
If the Penguins stick with the Big 3–Crosby, Malkin, Letang–they must also look for an experienced goalie with playoff experience.
In the history of the Penguins, few playoff losses will sting like this one. The 2018 team was gassed. The 2011 team ran out of luck without Malkin or Crosby, despite leading 3-1. 1996 and 2001 Eastern Conference Finals against bland trapping teams also come to mind as crushing defeats.
But this time, they outplayed their nemesis. And yet, it’s the New York Islanders who are moving on. And we wait to see who else is moving on, too…