The cartoon characters on his mask are both funny and indicative. The cat and mouse which Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry put on his mask speaks to his personality and his youth. Cmon, “Tom and Jarry” is pretty funny, and you’ll often catch a Jarry chuckling during media interviews. Players in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton regarded him as one of the boys, not the typical surly or peculiar goalie.
But that jovial personality may have worked against him.
Tuesday night, Jarry kept the Calgary Flames lead to only one goal through a first-period storm. The Penguins eventually beat Calgary 4-1 and Jarry was easily the Penguins best player, again.
The Penguins had a few knocks on their goalie. His practice habits. His focus. And the team called him on his compete level. There are a more than a few teams which probably have some pangs of regret as Penguins GM Jim Rutherford reportedly offered Jarry around the league this summer, but found no takers.
Perhaps Rutherford would find one or a dozen now.
“He’s been terrific. He’s making big saves for us, he’s seeing the puck,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “His rebound control is great. He plays the puck really well. Every aspect of his game, he’s locked in.”
Jarry leads the NHL with an eye popping goals against average under 2.00. In fact, Jarry’s GAA is now 1.85 after his 33-save, one-goal win over Calgary on Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Jarry’s save percentage has hovered within a few hundredths of .940 all season. It now stands at .940, which is the best in the NHL. So too is his GAA.
“We just weren’t good enough (in the first period). We were getting beat to pucks, and we weren’t playing with detail,” Bryan Rust said. “They were hungrier than we were, but obviously, Tristan was unbelievable for us.”
Calgary peppered Jarry with 17 shots in the first period, including 13 scoring chances and six high-danger chances. The number of opportunities itself was ridiculous. That Calgary only scored once was equally ridiculous. Calgary should have had a multi-goal lead within the first 10 minutes, but Jarry provided those big saves at the right time.
“Just make sure I’m battling. Making sure I’m getting in front of the puck,” Jarry said of the first period onslaught. “I knew the guys were going to help me and do their part. We had some key situations where we got the puck out and I think that helped a lot.”
Jarry is giving the Penguins those clutch saves which presumed No. 1 goalie Matt Murray has not given them this season. Sullivan has been forced to begin his answers about the goalie situation with the phrase, “As we’ve said many times…”
What Sullivan has said many times is the team is choosing a starting goalie based on winning games in the short term but not losing sight of the long term. In other words, Jarry is the hot hand, but Murray will get the net back and be the Penguins starter when he’s ready.
But Jarry is chipping away at that belief, too.
Tristan Jarry Stats Story
Tristan Jarry has started nine of the Penguins last eleven games. Jarry has also won nine of his last 11 games. And despite some devoted Penguins fans who insist Sullivan is related to Murray or that Murray has incriminating photos, Sullivan has made his goalie choices based on the health of the team.
Sullivan prefered Murray’s short memory and stoic play to Marc-Andre Fleury’s dynamic but sometimes rapidly unraveling play. Sullivan pushed Murray last season when he gave Casey DeSmith nearly 40 starts. Murray was injured for approximately six weeks but DeSmith was also given clusters of starts in front of Murray until the Penguins top netminder took over with a dominating second half.
Sullivan is the man whom Jarry must make a believer. Murray has a pair of Stanley Cup rings and was important enough the Penguins said goodbye to a Hall of Fame goalie to keep Murray around. That was a large investment beyond dollars and cents.
Media and fans can insist Jarry is the starter, but our collective isn’t responsible for the long term health of the franchise, either. The next fan who pops up on social media to proclaim the Penguins need to give Murray more starts so he can get his game back may be awarded a combat pay for the coming backlash.
But it is no longer hard to argue Jarry is making a believer of Sullivan. With every extra start, with every dominating performance in which Jarry shows no structural flaws, the Penguins and Sullivan give Jarry the net again. Eventually, the idea of Jarry starting seems less special and more routine.
Everyone is getting comfortable with Tristan Jarry in the net, including Jarry. The next 10 games will give the Penguins, Jarry and the rest of the league a 20-game sample to evaluate, dissect and pick apart.
Or those next 10 games will give everyone cause to begin talking long-term starts, too. Finally, after a few years toiling in the minors waiting for his chance, the Pittsburgh Penguins former second-round pick and former goalie of the future has his fate in his hands.