In spots over the course of Casey DeSmith‘s Penguins tenure, he has been very good. He has never had to face a long term spell as the starter but did Thursday night prove he was capable?
Yes, the Penguins are only three games into the young season. Matt Murray got the start in the first two. However, Monday afternoon, Murray was diagnosed with a concussion during practice. Murray didn’t look solid in the first two games allowing 11 goals on 65 shots through those fist two. To be fair, the defense in front of him wasn’t good.
Against a hungry Vegas team, DeSmith played behind the same defense sans Olli Maatta. Jusso Riikola made his NHL debut in his steed. DeSmith actually didn’t get much more help. He turned away 35 of 37 shots. A large majority of those shots were in high danger areas.
None of them were better than this one:
The crazy part about everything is that DeSmith is that of a throwback goalie. He’s 6’0″ tall and weighs 181 pounds. The NHL now calls for the taller more positionally sound goaltender. The Murray type that is tall and thin. DeSmith can make the quick, athletic save such as that one above.
It begs the question: Can DeSmith be counted on if Murray would suffer a long-term injury?
Murray has been injury prone in his first two-plus seasons in the league. This is his third documented concussion. He has also suffered groin injuries and a wrist injuries. Both the concussion and groin are injuries that require rest and can nag any player, especially goalies, for their entire career. It’s reasonable to think Murray will again be injured at some point later in the season even if he does return very soon as he’s back to practicing already.
DeSmith, 27, is already at an age where he may be in the prime of his career. He has already beat out Tristan Jarry at pretty much every level of competition. He had the best stats of the three goaltenders who suited up for the Penguins in a game last season. He was arguably the best goalie of the three in the preseason.
No one should yet go as far as saying DeSmith should supplant Murray. That’s not going to happen quite yet. Murray is a lot younger and has a great track record. He had the injury-riddled season last year and already has a concussion this year.
Mike Sullivan was effusive in his praise on Thursday.
“I thought he was our best player tonight,” Sullivan said following the 4-2 win.
Even in a game where Phil Kessel had a hat trick, Sullivan pointed out DeSmith as the top player. The coaching staff believes in him and he has played well enough to deserve the trust.
Personally, I see a goalie that deserves an opportunity if Murray ever were to miss a lengthy amount of time. The Penguins don’t have an Antti Niemi failure in DeSmith. They have a capable goalie in the prime of his career that became a great story last season. The competition with Jarry only fuels DeSmith.
Thursday’s performance against Vegas likely earned him the start on Saturday unless a miraculous clearance for Murray occurs. It proved DeSmith belongs in the league.
While DeSmith wasn’t done any favors with the schedule (the Penguins’ first back-to-back isn’t until late November), he got a chance to play a little earlier than expected. Thursday, he ran with it. He’ll continue to do so.
DeSmith is doing everything he can to keep his backup job and be someone the Pens can trust in a pinch.