NHL

We may need to add goaltending depth to the list of Penguins needs

The good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins is that not only did they manage to beat a team (the Florida Panthers) trying to chase them down in the Eastern Conference playoff race on Tuesday night, but they also managed to win in overtime.

Kris Letang came back and scored two goals and had four points, they found some deep scoring and managed to get two very important points in the frame.

The bad news for the Pittsburgh Penguins is that we may have to add another need to the shopping list. That need: A goalkeeper.

Tristan Jarry is injured again and it appears to be a different injury than the one that previously sidelined him. It forced Casey DeSmith into the starting role against Florida, and it didn’t go well. To be fair, he didn’t know he was starting until the absolute last minute, the Penguins made some mistakes in front of him, and Florida has talent, even if its record doesn’t fully reflect it this season.

But even with that combination of variables, I’m not sure they should have allowed six goals in that game. The expected goals by Natural Stat Trick had the Penguins at 3.9 in all situations (they allowed six) and 2.84 during 5-on-5 play (where they allowed four), so take that as you will.

Not only was it a problem in terms of numbers, but DeSmith just didn’t look good. Nor has he at any point this season. Even when Florida didn’t score, he seemed to fly out of position, looked rattled and gave up a few goals where he simply didn’t look like he was playing at the NHL level. That was bad.

Throughout his career, he has been fine in small doses, but the more he has to play, the more he seems to struggle.

Take this recent stretch of games as an example. He has had to play in eight of the Penguins’ 11 games since the start of the new year (when Jarry was initially injured). He has an .880 save percentage during that stretch that is getting progressively worse with each game. Of the 41 goaltenders to play in at least five games during that stretch, his .880 mark ranks 36th in the NHL.

It’s a problem when your starting goalkeeper, in this case Tristan Jarry, has missed a lot of time due to injury.

This brings us to one of my biggest complaints with the Ron Hextall/Brian Burke front office.

For some reason, goaltending has been the single biggest factor in the Penguins not making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

In every series they were the better team. In my opinion, this is significant. But because they couldn’t get any kind of adequate goaltending, whether it was due to poor play or injury, they lost both series. It is the one thing that has held them back more than any other.

Yet they keep bringing back the same duo without making any kind of change.

It’s a complicated situation because when Jarry is healthy, he’s very good. And that tends to give the Penguins very strong goaltending overall.

But you have to consider two things with him: 1) the only time we saw him as a full-time starter in the playoff series, he completely melted down, and 2) he keeps getting hurt.

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and more chances when it comes to the first point. Sometimes guys just have a bad playoff or a bad stretch of games. I’d like to see him get a full series when he’s fully healthy and see what he does with it.

While the second point might just be bad luck, it’s something to be concerned about when you don’t know if you can trust your backup to play for an extended period of time.

So is this something to add to the shopping list by the pre-trade deadline? Goalkeeper depth?

That could be because it’s becoming pretty clear that the Penguins are going to have to rely on a backup goaltender for at least an extended period of time, and DeSmith doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence that he can give you what you need for. Even if Jarry is back for the playoffs, are you comfortable going into it with the current depth chart in case Jarry either struggles or gets injured? I’m not sure how.

I’m still in favor of extending Jarry because again, when he’s healthy, he’s very good, and you probably won’t find a better starting option at a cheaper price on the open market. And forget the price, there is probably not a better starting option available to them.

But you may need to start exploring the possibilities behind him both now and in the future. Because this is a problem.

It might not be as big of a need as a third-line center, but it’s definitely on the list.

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