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2018-19 Penguins’ Season in Review: Casey DeSmith

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Our season review turns to a backup goalie who stepped up big in key moments

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Vitals

Player: Casey DeSmith

Born: August 13, 1991 (27 years old)

Birthplace: Rochester, NH, USA

Catches: Left

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 181 pounds

Contract: played in 2018-19 on his entry level contract worth $675,000. Signed a three-year extension that will begin next season and last through 2021-22, worth $1.25 million per year.

Regular Season History

DeSmith was technically a rookie in the league’s classification for 2018-19, but it was the 27-year old’s fourth professional season and a banner year in the sense that it was the first full season he spent at the NHL level, with no trips to the minors.

In fact, it seems like a long time ago but during training camp the backup goalie job was technically up for grabs and in competition between DeSmith and Tristan Jarry. Jarry, a former second round pick with a bigger frame was sort of in the loose plans to eventually claim an NHL job at some point. Jarry’s only problem? The plucky, small undrafted goalie in DeSmith found a way to play better than him.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, for the past couple of years DeSmith and Jarry have basically been teammates competing for the same role and ice time, and whether it’s been the AHL or NHL level, DeSmith has consistently and always outplayed Jarry.

That happened again in the fall of 2018, and what was supposed to be an open battle never felt like any sort of back and forth as DeSmith calmly and confidently put a clamp on the job early and never gave any sign of losing it, with Jarry’s only NHL action coming due to injury to starter Matt Murray.

Monthly split

(via Yahoo!)

With Murray banged up early in the year, DeSmith was a critically important player for the Penguins in calendar 2018 where he started 21 of his total 30 on the year.

In fact, for the early part of the season DeSmith was by far the goalie the team needed to rely on AND had far better stats, like this look from nhl.com through 12/12/2018

DeSmith was sturdy and played well when called upon, and probably had a bigger role than most expected due not only to Murray’s injuries but also to a coach’s choice early in the year when “CDS” was playing at a higher level.

All of this culminated on January 11th, 2019 when DeSmith and the Pens agreed to a three year contract extension. This gives stability to the team and player moving forward. Also, in the back of your mind, a three year term was no doubt intentionally chosen as it means DeSmith will be eligible to be Pittsburgh’s available goalie two years from now in the Seattle expansion draft.

Game of the Season

December 20th: 2-1 win vs. Minnesota, 40 saves on 41 shots

DeSmith recorded the three shutouts on the season, but all of them were against unimpressive teams (VAN, AZ, BUF). Minnesota was nothing special either, but the circumstance of this game was something else. The Pens played December 19th @Washington, winning a 2-1 road game. The next night they played again at home against the Wild.

In 2017-18 Pittsburgh had SUCH a bad time on the second end of back-to-back games. The backup goalie usually gets the thankless job of playing that second game when his team is tired, and DeSmith was great in this one stopping 40 of 41 and making two goals stand up as a win.

Playoffs

DNP

Charts

(via Charting Hockey)

Input via the great Sean Tierney: “In all-situations play, DeSmith was a break-even goalie, allowing 89 goals on almost exactly 89 xG. He stops what he should, nothing more, nothing less. His trends were pretty balanced over time too, with a couple of small hot and cold streaks but nothing notably extreme”

Tierney again: “at 5v5, DeSmith was just a little below expectation among “backup goalies” (i.e. goalies that played less than 2000 mins during the season). His closest comparables were Carter Hart, Brian Elliott, and Pheonix Copley. Much like his all-sits play, DeSmith basically spent the season delivering as expected relative to his workload.”

My own take here on the performance vs. expectation is that it’s really good to sign for DeSmith to see the backup so aligned with the starter on this outlook. Similar performance (and “work” provided) show that both dealt with about the same and performed the same too. Probably good for DeSmith, maybe not so much for Murray.

More from Sean: “This view of the goalie stats heatmap is sorted by goals saved above expectation, which allows DeSmith to be viewed in comparison to goalies with similar rate results. One notable stat here is the xG rate that PIT allowed while DeSmith was in net -- the Pens did a decent job of limiting the quality of shots DeSmith faced. Only Boston’s Tuukka Rask faced a notably lower rate of quality among this group of DeSmith comparables.”

Finally, one more from Sean: “ In Goals Above Replacement (GAR) value, DeSmith provided about 8 GAR, which translates to a little over 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR). This was similar to the value posted by notables like SJS’s Martin Jones, NYR’s Henrik Lundqvist, and better than CGY’s Mike Smith.”

In this clinical look, DeSmith did what he was supposed to do, yet he had to carry a .916 save% on the year to do so, due to the Pens giving up so many shots against. They definitely leaned on their goalies a lot this season with two of their defensive pairs playing at replacement level and forwards who only showed spotty interest at playing away from the puck.

Videos

Ideal 2019-20

Probably looks a lot like 2018-19, to be honest. Getting 30 starts from a backup goalie, and a .916 save% (when the league average for the season was only .910%) is really about all you can ask from a player who might go weeks between starts. DeSmith was trusty enough to by far lock down the role of the second goalie on the team and if he can stay “steady as it goes” and not be much of a story at all, well that’s great. DeSmith probably couldn’t have had a more ideal 2018-19 that saw him earn his contract and long-term stability, so he’ll definitely be looking to build on that momentum moving forward.

Realistic 2019-20

There’s nothing in DeSmith’s resume to show he can’t repeat his performance last year, or come mighty close to it. Perhaps his overall individual numbers might be down a bit, but that would hardly be the end of the world. And deep down the team on some level probably even hopes that at the end of 2020 that DeSmith’s starts are down from 2019, as that would translate to Matt Murray probably having stayed healthy and performed well in his own right.

Worst case 2019-20

The worst to happen would be 2018-19 was an aberration and DeSmith goes from steady performer to liability. Pens’ fans can probably hearken back to the last real long-term backup goalie the team had in Brent Johnson. Johnson would seem to rotate years good and bad, and when the team lost confidence in him, that meant throwing the starter out even when he wasn’t playing so good, and the team sunk quickly. It doesn’t seem terribly likely this has any reason to happen, but goaltending can be voodoo and volatile and tough to predict.

Discussion

How many starts for Casey DeSmith next year do you expect and/or hope for? I guess by now DeSmith vs. Jarry is about case closed, but do you think the Pens should try to hold onto Jarry as a #3 anyways?

Poll

Grade Casey DeSmith’s 2018-19

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    A
    (78 votes)
  • 45%
    B+
    (154 votes)
  • 24%
    B
    (81 votes)
  • 4%
    C+
    (16 votes)
  • 2%
    C
    (7 votes)
336 votes total Vote Now