Grove: Are The Penguins Ready To Help Their Inexperienced Goaltenders

Bob Grove
November 23, 2018 - 12:04 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The unexpected Thanksgiving Day news that goaltender Matt Murray had been placed on injured reserve “longer term” with a lower body injury was more bad news for a Penguins team that has already had a month full of bad news and poor results.

But there’s no time for them to feel sorry for Murray, who’s lost five straight decisions while battling this injury, or themselves. They’ve lost eight of 10 games this month after a needed victory over Dallas Wednesday, and they’re six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and facing arguably their toughest stretch of schedule so far this season.

They’ll play their first set of back-to-back games tonight in Boston, where they’ve lost five straight, and Saturday night at home against a Columbus team that sits first in the Metropolitan Division. Then they play another set of back-to-back games next week in Winnipeg, home to a Jets team many believe capable of winning the Cup, and in Colorado against an Avs team with arguably the best line in the NHL.

Of course, these upcoming four games would have had the potential to sink the Penguins farther down the standings even with Murray playing in his recent state. It’s a fair to wonder whether Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry can deliver now and in the coming weeks when the team has no other option but to rely on them, although recent history suggests they can.

But here’s another, more important, question: are the Penguins ready to help their inexperienced goaltenders (27 NHL games played each) get the job done?

Related: Murray Placed on Injured Reserve

They showed signs of it against the Stars, limiting Dallas to just 37 attempted shots and only 19 on goal, but the Penguins this season have had big troubles delivering 60-minute efforts with any consistency. Now, however, they essentially have no choice.

DeSmith, who will get most of the starts while Murray is out, has been good this season but should not be expected to shoulder the load of keeping them in every game. He’s got to do his job, sure, but his teammates must be smarter with the puck, make better decisions without it, win more puck battles and generally provide the support he needs in the biggest moment of his NHL career. 

Given the back-to-backs in the immediate future and two more in mid-December, Jarry is going to have to build on a solid preseason and his play late last season, when he won four of his last five NHL starts.

It’s likely the coming weeks will turn into a game-by-game evaluation of DeSmith and Jarry, but the Penguins’ emergence intact from this challenging portion of their season will in reality be more about the guys around them. The stars, as Sidney Crosby showed yet again Wednesday, will hold up their end of the bargain offensively. But can this team, down to the fourth line and bottom defense pair, play well enough defensively to avoid having to score five goals a night to win?

If the answer is yes, the Penguins should be able to survive the mistakes DeSmith and Jarry will make, and they might just learn something about themselves in time for Murray’s return. If the answer is no, however, Murray might return to a team whose playoff fate is already written.

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