Tim Benz: Penguins’ young goaltenders face tough test in Winnipeg, Colorado
A lot of questions have been asked about how Pittsburgh Penguins goaltenders Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry will do long-term in the absence of Matt Murray.
I’m more concerned about how they’ll do short-term. Like tonight.
The Penguins face off in Winnipeg tonight at 8. Then they play Colorado at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Both opponents are in playoff position right now. The Avalanche have 30 points. That’s good for third in the Central Division. The Jets currently hold the Western Conference’s top wild-card spot with 28 points.
The Avalanche average 3.73 goals per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL. The Jets are tied with the Penguins for eighth at 3.36.
The two clubs are tied for the league lead in power play percentage at 30.4 percent.
The Jets have the NHL’s top goal scorer in Patrick Laine (19). The Avs have the top two players in points with Mikko Rantanen (38) and Nathan MacKinnon (35).
Aside from that, nothing to worry about for DeSmith and Jarry.
“Both teams are going to be a huge test,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Monday. “They are two of the best teams in the league. They are deep. They are balanced. They have dynamic offense(s). From a defensive standpoint, our team will be tested.”
DeSmith made his NHL debut in Winnipeg 13 months ago. He yielded three goals on 15 shots in relief of Murray as the Pens lost 7-1. On Monday, he sounded like a goalie expecting to play and do better.
“Regardless, playing that team in that rink is going to be a test,” DeSmith said. “They are really skilled, and that’s a hard place to play. Hopefully, I’ll have less nerves this time around.
“I love a raucous crowd over a small crowd any day; the louder the building, the more fun it is to play.”
If Jarry gets the start versus the Avs, it’ll be his second of the year after he stopped 35 of 37 shots in his season debut against the Bruins.
“Every goalie in our organization is motivated,” Jarry said Monday. “You see all the great goalies in the organization; everyone pushes each other.”
Not only are both teams dangerous, but they are also hot. The Jets have won three of their last four home games. And they just ripped the Blues 8-4 in St. Louis with Laine scoring five times.
As for the Avs, they’ve won six of seven, averaging 4.83 goals per game along the way.
The Penguins’ goaltenders would be significantly aided by a sound penalty kill to contend with these winning streaks and to offset those fearsome man-up numbers mentioned above. Or, for that matter, not being on the kill very much at all.
Sullivan’s group has been good in that regard. The Pens penalty kill is ninth in the NHL at 81 percent, .02 better than the 10th place Jets. And Toronto is the only club to face fewer shorthanded chances than the Penguins.
It’d also help if the Pens actually got on the power play themselves more often. They are second to last in man-up opportunities with 64. Only the Leafs have fewer with 63. The Pens’ power play is effective 25 percent of the time when they get the chance, seventh best in hockey.
“We have players in our locker room who we think are pretty dynamic offensively as well,” Sullivan added.
The Penguins have tried very hard to be more responsible defensively as of late. They’ve only allowed five goals in their last three games. That’s a vast improvement on the 40 that crossed the goal line in the previous 10. Slipping back into the habit of trading chances and playing a skill-for-skill game may not be wise, especially against quality opponents like Colorado and Winnipeg.
Perhaps the Penguins’ young goaltenders can mitigate the need for that.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.