We all knew what the biggest question mark for the Pittsburgh Penguins was entering this season.
It was goaltending. It had to be goaltending. It was only goaltending. Well, mostly goaltending.
After the way the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended a year ago, and the way the offseason went where the Penguins did nothing to bring in anybody to push Tristan Jarry, there was legitimate concern as to how the position was going to shake out this season. Sure, Jarry was going to be better than he was in the playoffs simply by default, but how much better would he be? Would he be the goalie they need to have a Stanley Cup caliber season?
We still do not really know the answer to those questions for sure, but what we have seen over the first three games has been incredibly encouraging.
Jarry was sensational on Tuesday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars, making big save after big save to help the Penguins secure another point during this tough four-game stretch without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Including Tuesday’s game he is up to a .935 all situations save percentage and a .944 even-strength save percentage. Even though it is an admittedly small sample size, it is at least encouraging.
This always had the feeling of a make-or-break year for Jarry in Pittsburgh. He turns 27 later this season and we are still trying to figure out exactly what he is as a goalie. He is clearly no longer a prospect and has to establish himself as some sort of an NHL goalie. The resume at this point is very, very mixed.
The regular season last year was acceptable, became an issue at the end of the season, and was a disaster in the playoffs.
The year before he played in the All-Star game and received a Vezina Trophy vote, but it was mostly a tale of two seasons. He was outstanding during his first 15 starts with a save percentage well north of .930, earning him a spot in the All-Star. But from January on that save percentage dipped below .900, which is closer to where his career has been outside of that opening 15-game stretch.
He was very solid in his first two starts this season against Tampa Bay and Chicago, posting a 2-0 record in allowing just four goals in those two starts. But the Penguins were excellent in both games and did a great job insulating him and keeping pressure off of him. On Tuesday the Stars were able to generate a few more chances in a much closer game where Jarry needed to be a little better. And he was. It might have been one of his best starts ever when you take into account the quality of chances he faced, how close the game was, and how he helped the Penguins get their point in the standings.
The only problem on the night was the fact he was a little off in the shootout. But they also probably would not have even made it to the shootout with that sort of great effort from Jarry.
Ideally the Penguins will not need that sort of effort from him every night. They should be good enough defensively and structured enough to not need their goaltending to bail them out consistently. When Crosby and Malkin return they should be balanced enough offensively, especially with Jeff Carter and Tedd Blueger to center the third-and fourth-lines, to score enough goals so they should not need to rely on a goalie to win. Really what they need is simply competent goaltending. They got that for most of the 2020-21 regular season and turned into a division championship (the most difficult division in the NHL a year ago). They did not get that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost in the First Round.
Nobody should jump to any conclusions, positive or negative, based on just three starts for Jarry and four games overall. But it is an encouraging sign at least.