The Pittsburgh Penguins ended last season with a dilemma in goal. With two capable goalies on their roster entering their prime, and with limited cap space to keep both, the Pens had a decision to make. That decision sent two time Cup winning netminder Matt Murray to the Ottawa Senators. The move made Tristan Jarry the Penguins clear number one choice in net to start the season, a job that he has been more challenging than expected.
The decision came as no surprise. Murray had struggled with form and injury over the last couple of seasons. With him set to become a restricted free agent, the money side of the equation tilted the scales further into Jarry’s favor. Jarry had put up as many wins (20) as Murray in less games to go with a better save percentage (.921 vs .899) and a lower goals allowed average (2.43 vs 2.87) per hockeyreference.com. The numbers gave management (and fans) confidence that Jarry was ready to take the reins as the full time starter.
Expectations were high for the 25-year-old when he took the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers to open the season. Jarry would struggle out of the gate though, giving up six goals on 27 shots in a 6-3 loss. Two nights later, again against the Flyers, he allowed three goals on six shots before being relieved of duty 12 minutes into the first period. Jarry got some relief in his next two appearances in getting wins against the New York Rangers. Back-to-back losses to the Bruins and Islanders rekindled the fire under the netminder’s feet as again he struggled.
Heading into the Valentine’s Day tilt with the Capitals, Jarry was sitting with a .857 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average. Those numbers were not going to get the Penguins into a playoff position. Rumors had broke that the Penguins had inquired about bringing Marc-Andre Fleury back from Vegas in trade to stabilize the position. Jarry’s future in Pittsburgh was becoming cloudy, and he had to find a way to turn things around.
Things began to click for Jarry during the Capitals game. It has started a run where he has won four out of five and has put up a sparkling 0.932 save percentage. The only blemish during this run was a 3-1 loss to the Caps where he put up 42 saves. The question has now become can he continue this form, and what has changed (All stats pulled from NHL.com). There are multiple factors that have led to this rebound, but the following three are probably the biggest keys in this writer’s opinion.
New Faces on the Blueline
There have been some new faces on the Pens’ blueline this season. Cody Ceci, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and Mike Matheson have all drawn into the lineup, replacing former defensemen like Justin Schultz and Jack Johnson. Anytime you have change amongst the rear guard, there are adjustments to work through. Communication and understanding of coverage assignments were understandably a work in progress the first few weeks of the season. This issue was amplified by the shortened training camp and preseason.
This can manifest itself in knowing the tendencies of the goalie and his defensemen. Defenders who have played with a goalie for long stretches understand the preferences for positioning and where to force the action to give the best sightlines. The growing pains of building some of this chemistry led to more high danger chances allowed and had Jarry off his angles on many occasions.
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Jarry appeared to have trouble finding the puck early in the season. This probably had some to do with the chemistry building with the blueline, but it also had to do with the goalie himself. Jarry was sometimes leaning slightly to one side or another as he was trying to find the puck. Being off-center with the shooter by even an inch creates openings. These small openings look like an open lane on a highway to NHL level shooters.
At other times he seemed to not find the puck coming off the stick even when he had a clear view. This resulted in him reacting a fraction of a second later. This does not always lead to goals allowed, but it does create more rebound chances as the goalie is not positioned properly for puck control. When a goalie is fighting it, their movements are not efficient, and this was on display early this season with Jarry’s technique.
When a goalie is off a bit in his positioning, not reading the play on time and not controlling rebounds the way he should, it leads to goals that should have never been scored. This weighs on a netminders confidence and instead of moving with purpose and on instinct, he begins to overthink it. Jarry appeared to have had his confidence rattled a bit in the first few weeks, this continued the spiral of erratic play.
To his credit, Tristan Jarry fought through his dip in form and has shown recently what he is capable of. This does not mean everything will be smooth sailing from here on out. What it does show is the young man’s ability to overcome a poor run of games. Jarry looks like he is rounding into form and for the Penguins, it is coming at the right time.