With the unfortunate news about Matt Murray suffering his third career concussion in practice on Monday, Casey DeSmith, who won the backup goalie battle over Tristan Jarry in the preseason, is slated to be the next man up and take charge of protecting the Penguins’ net.
DeSmith, who’s considered to be a very reliable guy to have behind Murray by the coaching staff, seems to have a different feel and mindset for his game this season — one that’s yielding major improvements. DeSmith’s approach has literally been about being able to see the puck better, and he feels that his comfort level between the pipes in the NHL has risen to a much higher tier to assist him in that regard.
“Playing at this level, it doesn’t seem quite as fast as previous years,” DeSmith explained back in the exhibition period. “I got my feet under me a little bit.”
In the Penguins’ preseason opener, DeSmith looked fantastic, shucking away 26 of the 29 shots he faced with an AHL-level prospect club defending the Buffalo Sabres’ top talent in front of him. He managed to handle Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt, and Rasmus Dahlin with little to no issue, even in the eventual 3-2 loss. That loss wasn’t pegged on him, however, as Jake Guentzel and Olli Maatta were the only two playing out of all Pittsburgh’s star players. The rest of his preseason was also solid enough, and Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan agreed that it was in the Penguins’ best interest (especially considering waivers) if he was the one to back Murray to start the season.
“I feel really, really good,” DeSmith said. “I’ve been having really good practices lately, and I’ve got all the new gear broken in, so that always feels good. The beginning of the season is always rough in that way. Everything is coming together for me. Obviously I never like seeing (Murray) go down, but it’s a good opportunity with a really good team (in Vegas) coming in.”
DeSmith also confirmed that he’s appreciative of having a handful of days to both mentally and physically prepare for his first 2018-19 regular season start, as opposed to just being thrown into the starting role with less than a day’s notice.
“Doing all the things off the ice — visualization, etc. — while looking ahead to Thursday is definitely nice,” he said. “It’s better than finding out the day of or day before. I have a ton of confidence (carrying over from last season).”
“I would say that most goalies come into the league, and maybe in their minds there’s a little bit of a question mark. You've never played at this high of a level against the best of the best players out there. So getting 14 games (last season), getting all that experience, and having lot of success is really important for me confidence-wise. I have that belief in myself that I belong here.”
With how light the early schedule has been for Pittsburgh thus far, DeSmith, before Murray’s injury news, was genuinely unsure of when he’d be given his first 2018-19 start. He and goaltender coach Mike Buckley never even had a date set for when he’d be named the starter for a night. And now, it’s a sudden reality DeSmith is facing.
“Looking at the schedule, (Buckley) and I were trying to piece together when I might get a game. Two weeks from now, etc.,” he said. “It’s a really light schedule, and we didn’t really have a date in mind. We just (planned to) spend October getting things in order and be able to feel great about my game whenever the time comes, and then that times comes Thursday. Thankfully I’ve been working really hard, and I do feel really good about my game now. I don’t want to say it’s perfect timing, but I feel good about (starting).”
In DeSmith’s 14 starts in 2017-18, he boasted a 6-4-1 record and a brilliant .921 save percentage. On average, he allowed 2.40 goals against per game, stopping 328 of the 356 total shots he faced. Hopefully the defense can sort themselves out, and they don’t leave DeSmith out on an island in his first appearance back.