There are a lot of factors that will determine how the Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-21 season goes, and none of them are more significant than the goaltending situation.
With Matt Murray now a member of the Ottawa Senators, the goalie position has shifted to the duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. They are both still a mystery as we have no idea what they are going to be capable of over a full season. Neither one has ever been a starter in the NHL, neither one has an extensive track record in the NHL, and between the two they have started just 99 games (regular season and playoffs) at the highest level.
This lack of experience at the most impactful position on the ice is relatively uncharted territory for the Penguins in the modern era.
For the past decade-and-a-half they have always had at least one seasoned, experienced starter on the roster whether it was Marc-Andre Fleury or Murray. Or both.
The numbers are what they are.
In their NHL careers the duo of Jarry and DeSmith has appeared in only 113 games and started just 99 of them.
For some perspective on those numbers, you have to go all the way back to the 2003-04 season to find the last time the Penguins opened a series with a more inexperienced goalie duo. That was the year the Penguins opened with Sebastian Caron and a teenaged Fleury as their two goalies.
That duo had 24 games and 23 starts of NHL experience. All of them belonging to Caron.
But even that team had Jean-Sebastian Aubin (a seasoned veteran at the time) returning to the lineup in mid-December.
This current team has no such veteran waiting.
If you go all the way back to 1990 (more than 30 years!) there are the least-experienced goalie duos the Penguins have opened a season with.
Marc-Andre Fleury/Sebastian Caron (2003-04) — 24 games, 23 starts
Tristan Jarry/Casey DeSmith (2020-21) — 113 games, 99 starts
Johan Hedberg/Jean-Sebastian Aubin (2001-02) — 131 games, 119 starts
Matt Murray/Casey DeSmith (2018-19) — 170 games, 160 starts
Johan Hedberg/Jean-Sebastian Aubin (2002-03) — 218 games, 203 starts
If you wanted you could also add the 2017-18 season into that when Murray and DeSmith also shared the net for most of the season with just 92 starts between them (all belonging to Murray), but keep in mind that team opened the season with Antti Niemi as the backup, before he played his way off the roster in just three games. You also have to take into account that even though Murray had only started 92 games, he was also a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a relatively proven commodity. Everybody knew what he was capable of and that he could backstop the team to a championship. Or two of them, actually.
That is not really the case this season.
Is that a technicality to not include that duo? Maybe! But the important thing to remember is the Penguins went into that season anticipating that Niemi, a very seasons veteran, would be their backup behind a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie. Those are facts.
Anyway, what this shows is that for the better part of three decades the Penguins have been very consistent in their goalie situation, at least in the sense of knowing what they have. Whether it has been Tom Barrasso and Ken Wregget, or Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, or Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, or Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, they have mostly been set here. There was always a basic expectation of what they were going to get and little to no concern on the starter.
This is the first time in nearly two decades that is not the case. Even in that 2003-04 season there was the expectation that Fleury would be the franchise goalie for the next decade.
Will Tristan Jarry end up being that player? His 2019-20 season had moments of brilliance and showed some promise, but it is far from a sure thing. There were still some inconsistencies and he is still very much an unknown as a full time starter.
Am not saying the Jarry-DeSmith duo is not capable of doing the job. Maybe they are! The point is we do not really know at this point. That uncertainty is something the Penguins and Penguins fans are not really used to at the start of a season.