Flavell: Do the Penguins have their true backup goalie?

Before the season, the Penguins signed goaltender Antti Niemi to a 1-year, veteran minimum “show me” deal. After getting rid of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins didn’t have the two-deep system they had in their two previous playoff runs.

The Niemi signing quickly blew up in their face as he posted a .797 save percentage and a 7.50 goals against average in his three appearances in the Penguins net. He was then claimed by Florida and since moved on to Montreal where he has resurrected his numbers.

The Niemi waiving had the Penguins firmly in the backup goalie market early in the year. For the time being, Casey DeSmith had been given the first chance to claim the backup spot which was a surprise to many with Tristan Jarry seemingly waiting his chance in the big league.

DeSmith had posted some pretty solid numbers and was eventually given the starting job for a few games as Matt Murray had sustained a lower body injury. Jarry and DeSmith had quietly battled with DeSmith eventually giving way and heading back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Murray returned.

Along came the trade deadline and the Penguins passed upon acquiring a veteran backup netminder. Jarry was sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to become eligible for the AHL playoffs which meant DeSmith was again the backup.

News leaked the next day that defenseman Olli Maatta hit Murray in the head with a shot in practice and Murray had been diagnosed with a concussion. Jarry was recalled again and the two have been struggling in this stint with Murray out.

Monday, the Penguins take on the Calgary Flames and Jarry is likely back in the net as he was the goaltender for the Penguins two nights ago when they beat the Islanders in overtime.

It is an interesting situation for the Penguins as no matter what combination they head into the playoffs with, the combined age of the two goalies dressed won’t exceed 50 years old. That’s a very young tandem. Murray already has two Stanley Cups so it is fair to consider him a young and seasoned veteran. Jarry and DeSmith can’t say much of the same.

Jarry has posted an 11-5-2 record in 22 games played with a .913 save percentage and a 2.68 goals against average. He has recorded two shutouts. DeSmith is 3-4-0 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.73 goals against average. He has not recorded a shutout in his 9 game NHL career.

Their numbers are very similar on the year but head coach Mike Sullivan can’t seem to commit to a backup. When one has a down game, it seems they are benched or sent down the next day. One would think Jarry would be the guy as his pedigree and ceiling are a bit higher.

Jarry was a high draft pick who was pegged as the next one to take over for Fleury when the time came. Murray began tearing up the AHL and jumped ahead of Jarry on the organizational depth chart. Jarry made his NHL debut against the Rangers in the final regular season game last season.

Despite Jarry’s advantages, the 26-year old DeSmith has been given every chance to stay in the spot. He was called up first in what was said to be “a chance to let Jarry play games” in the AHL. The minor league numbers definitely had something to do with it as he had a better start to the season and supplanted Jarry in last season’s AHL playoffs as the starter.

Going forward, you’d think the Penguins would go with Jarry due to his pedigree. DeSmith has outplayed Jarry at every level, though, and his overtaking of the starter’s spot in the playoffs last year may just be another sign. DeSmith is also eligible for the AHL playoffs as he was on the AHL roster on the deadline for player’s to be in the AHL.

The plan may be for Jarry to start backed up by Anthony Peters in the AHL come playoff time to give Jarry more experience as the outright starter in high pressure games. This would mean DeSmith will sit behind Murray and likely would only start if Murray got hurt or struggled mightily in the playoffs.

You know what they say: If you have two backup goalies, you don’t have a backup goalie at all.

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