Evaluating The Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie Situation

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Matt Murray
Penguins goalie Matt Murray during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 16, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are nearing another long playoff run. While the powerplay is clicking, and the big guns are scoring, goaltending has been holding this team back. So today let’s look into the Penguins goalie situation before the playoffs.

The Penguins Goalie Situation This Year

Playoff teams typically have solid goaltending numbers. That has absolutely not been the case for the Penguins this year, here’s how they’ve performed each month this season compared to the average playoff team. (All Data From Corsica)

This shows a troubling trend. Relative to the average playoff team, the Penguins goalies have really struggled. January was the lone bright spot, and February was fine but other than that the Penguins goalies have been drowning. Each of the other four months they have kept the teams save percentage below average. Bad goaltending has the potential to hold even the best teams back. So, if the Penguins plan to three-peat, this needs to change. Will it? Well, that’s up to three candidates.

1) Matt Murray

First up is the most likely candidate to write the ship, Matt Murray. While battling through injuries, Murray has underperformed this year. Here’s how his results this season stack up against the past using goals saved above average (GSAA). This takes the location of every shot a goalie faces and compares how many goals he has saved to a league average goalie given the same shots.

In his first season, Murray was a legit starting goalie. After that, he had a Vezina-calibre year. Finally this year his results have fallen below average for the first time. While the odds of winning the Stanley Cup with a below average goalie are very low, there is good news at the end. Over his entire career, Murray has faced about 4000 shots, which is a large enough sample to get a good idea of a goaltender’s true talent. For Murray, his true talent is likely incredibly similar to his first year in the NHL.

Goalie performance can be weird in single-season samples (look at Carey Price this year). Their numbers bounce around a lot so nothing is guaranteed, however, the Penguins shouldn’t lose faith in Murray. He’s a borderline elite goalie over his young career. The Penguins should expect him to start performing up to his true talent from here on out, which was good enough to win the Stanely Cup with. While Murray is the Penguins best bet in goal, there are two other options.

2) Tristan Jarry

The next option is the Penguins top goalie prospect, Tristan Jarry. After an elite AHL season last year, the 22-year-old earned his chance at the NHL level this season. Once in the big leagues, Jarry’s results have been a mixed bag.

That graph shows Jarry’s five-game rolling save percentage, a great way to look at trends over time. Early on, Jarry looked promising. He was the primary driver of the teams high save percentage in January. From there, he began to fall off. After one other hot streak, Jarry eventually fell below a .900 save percentage for six straight games and was sent back down to the AHL.

Despite the rough ending, Jarry was about an average goalie in his limited time with the Penguins. It’s tough to make any conclusions about a goaltender from 26 games, but there is some reason to be optimistic about Jarry. He’s nowhere near a sure thing, however, if the Penguins really need him, Jarry has now shown flashes at every level he can be a capable Penguins goalie. And if Jarry fails too, the Penguins have one more option.

Casey DeSmith

The Penguins final option is a goaltender who often gets overlooked, Casey DeSmith. He has actually outperformed Jarry at both the AHL and NHL level over each of the past two seasons. On top of that, DeSmith has at .913 save percentage in the NHL this year, the best of any Penguins goalie. So DeSmith has potential too.

With that in mind, I’m simply not sold on his upside as a solid starting goalie in the playoffs. Maybe that’s from overvaluing draft pedigree, but I see DeSmith as a backup rather than having the potential to be the Penguins saviour. If they’re in dire straights, he’s at least earned a look, but I wouldn’t bet big on him.

Altogether the Penguins goalies have underwhelmed this season. Murray has underperformed most, but he should regress towards his true talent. If he does, it’ll be good enough to win with. If he struggles, Jarry is young with upside and DeSmith has been solid in a small sample. So don’t expect goaltending to hold this team back down the stretch.

 

Main Photo via Getty Images.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve gone from thinking the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup again to believing that some team that barely makes the playoffs like Columbus or the New Jersey Devils will win that division. The Capitals will find a way to choke. Playoff hockey is not the same as regular season hockey. The Penguins seem like less than they were. You talk about regression to the mean. Well, there’s a lot of penguins among the top scorers and they will regress to the mean by under-performing in the playoffs this year. I hope I’m wrong. I really respect the Penguins organization and what they have accomplished. Hockey is way less predictable than basketball or football. There will be surprises in the playoffs. The fall of the mighty penguins may be one of them.

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