There are not very many questions to be asked about the Penguins’ lineup when it comes to forwards and defensemen. We know who all of those guys are and what they are capable of. The same can be said about starting goaltender Matt Murray. The man who won two Stanley Cups as a rookie (yes, both as an official rookie). Many were not entirely impressed with Murray after a pretty rocky season last year. He suffered through multiple injuries and his infamous glove hand lacked as usual, but despite all that he is still tremendously talented and is no doubt the number one goalie for the Penguins next year.
Matt Murray: 49 GP, 27-16-3, .907 SV%, 2.92 GAA, 1 SO
Murray did not even play 50 games in his first official year as a starter. His first two seasons he shared his time with Marc-Andre Fleury, but still did not hit the mark due to injuries. His save percentage dropped from .923 to .907 from 2017 into 2018. In fact, all of his stats dropped in both wins and goal against average. One could argue that the defense in front of him dropped tremendously in talent and number one defenseman Kris Letang had a bad year himself. Murray was solid in the playoffs totaling two shutouts before getting bounced in the second round by the Washington Capitals. His performance still paled in comparison to the two years that he won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins.
Murray’s performance in the upcoming season rests alone on one question, will he remain healthy? If his health holds up and he can get in at least 55 games this year, he should be able to put up really solid numbers and has the potential to be a Vezina Trophy finalist for league’s best goaltender.
Tristan Jarry: 26 GP, 14-6-2, .908 SV%, 2.77 GAA, 2 SO
Now here comes the big question: Who will become the full-time backup to Murray? Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith will be in a neck and neck battle at the beginning of the season to see who can retain their roster spot and become Murray’s back up. It is apparent that Jarry has the most potential and upside of the two, but he may have more value getting traded away than he would be sitting on the Penguins’ bench for a huge chunk of the season.
Jarry filled in a lot last year for Murray during his injury struggles and was not terrible, but was not exactly spectacular. Looking at the numbers, he put up just about the same as Murray with nearly half the sample size. Asking him to outperform a guy who won two Stanley Cups as a rookie is admittedly absurd, but Jarry did not give anyone something to rave about. His job, for the time being, is severely insecure, but elsewhere there could be a fit for him. Many teams have long-term, expensive contracts locked up with below average goaltender and can likely use a short-term, cheap average goaltender like Jarry who has the potential to be a top half of the league starter in the NHL.
Jarry may eventually back up Murray to see where it goes but do not be surprised when the trade deadline comes around and he gets flipped for a third-round draft pick.
Casey DeSmith: 14 GP, 6-4-1, .921 SV%, 2.40 GAA, 1 SO
DeSmith finished the year, objectively, with the best stats of the three goalies, albeit with the smallest amount of playing time.
He spent much of the year traveling across the state between the Penguins and the Baby Penguins, but he made the most of it and put up solid numbers. We have yet to see what he can do with a heavier backup workload, especially with an injury prone starter in Murray where DeSmith might have to fill in for an extended stretch of games.
Say, Murray, in a completely healthy season plays 55 – 60 games that will leave 12 – 17 games for DeSmith. Having started 11 games last season backing up either Jarry or Murray he put up pretty solid numbers, a hell of a lot better than Antti Niemi did.
Starting off the year in Pittsburgh, DeSmith will probably end up a full-timer in Pittsburgh come March barring any wild injuries to any of the three goaltenders on the roster.