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Grading the Penguin defensemen and goalies through 10 games

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What a debut for Pierre-Olivier Joseph!

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Following on from grading the forwards earlier this morning, let’s take a look at the defensemen and goalies. We’ll stick with players who have at least played 3+ games to qualify to get a grade.

Defensemen

Cody Ceci [7gp, 1G+2a]: Judge Ceci strictly by his play this season and not his broader reputation and it’s been, well, really solid so far, actually. Ceci lowest among the regular NHL caliber defensemen in Corsi (but still at 52%) and was a healthy scratch for a few games to get adjusted, but overall his play has been decent. Ceci has been on ice for more 5v5 goals for (5) than against (4). He’s leading the Pens’ dmen in hits and second in blocked shots, and he’s top among blueliners with a 1.77 Goals Against/60 mark at 5v5. Some of that might be smoke and mirrors and who knows if he can sustain it, but we’re only looking at these games for right now, and in these games Ceci has been good. Grade: B+

Brian Dumoulin [7gp, 0G+1a]: It’s been perceived that Dumoulin wasn’t off to a good start, but underlying numbers dispute some eye tests. Dumo led Pens’ regular defensemen in Corsi% (56.4%), Scoring Chance% (59.3%), xGF% (57.1%), and on ice for very few high danger chances against (15), but unfortunately a high number of them have ended up in the net (5). The offense struggled more with Dumoulin, only generating one assist and being on ice for four 5v5 goals in 132 minutes (1.8 GF/60) Last season that was 4.3 GF/60. It is fair to say Dumoulin doesn’t seem quite “right” compared to the player he was from 2016-19 to what he is showing right now...But the player we’ve seen in 2021 has still been pretty good. Grade: B-

Pierre-Olivier Joseph [6gp, 0G+4A]: Thrust into a big role due to injuries and very short on NHL experience, Joseph has been nothing but a breath of fresh air for the Pens. He has impressive poise, defends well and the knack on him has been how much offense he could bring to the NHL level. So far, it’s been great with four primary assists (including three in a single game). Joseph has Corsi% and xGF% shares over 50%, incredibly impressive for a 21-year old debuting NHL defenseman who has had to play a much bigger role than expected. Grade: A+

Kris Letang [9gp, 0G+3A]: Letang is a fascinating player to try and boil down to a simple letter grade, because there is just so much going on in evaluating his play. First, with all the injuries and overtime games, Letang was leaned on quite heavily, to the tune of 27:01 per game prior to the contest he left injured himself. Letang has made a few mistakes, and due to his style, those tend to be very visible, memorable and costly. But his GA/60 is also an incredibly respectable 2.24, better than every regular defender on the team (besides Ceci!!). All of Letang’s possession stats (Corsi%, xGF%, scoring chances) are in the 52-54% range, a bit down from perhaps his standard, but still favorable. Offensively though, Letang has struggled, and struggled mightily on the power play. His resume says he’s played pretty decently in a huge role, but the offensive numbers individually and for the team are disappointing. Grade: C+

John Marino [10gp, 0G+1A]: Marino is also a very interesting case to grade. On one hand, he’s got a team low .863% on ice save% and the Pens have given up 9 HD goals while he’s on the ice. He’s been the victim of goalies not making some saves, but at the same time his play has also asked more of the goalies by allowing chances against (his 10.5 HD chances against/60 is up mightily from 8.4 per 60 last season). Offensively while many were hoping Marino would take a big step forward production-wise, he’s instead gone backwards by failing to generate points. Overall, his play was trending up as the team gave him more work to do, but Marino hasn’t exactly had a great year just yet. Grade: C-

Marcus Pettersson [4gp, 1G+0A]: Like Dumoulin and Marino, Pettersson has a very low on-ice save% and has been on the ice for a high number of high danger chances against. This is an indictment of his own in-zone play, as well as some shaky goaltending that was especially so in the brief sample Pettersson played in the beginning of the season when the team’s defensive structure was basically non-existent and the goalies were seemingly finding ways to avoid making saves. Pettersson scored a beauty of a goal, but otherwise provided no offense, and his xGF% is under 50. Not a huge sample, so not a big deal, but it wasn’t a very steady start for what was a very steady defender last season. Grade: C-

Chad Ruhwedel [9gp, 0G+1A]: Ruhwedel leads the Pens in penalty minutes (12) and often has to hook/hold/slash when he gets in trouble in his own end. But his Corsi%, xGF% and scoring chance numbers are in the 51-54% range, which considering a fairly big role is not too shabby for a depth defenseman. Coincidental or not, only Marino has been on ice for more 5v5 goals for (6), which probably says more about the others and injury situation than it does Ruhwedel. But he’s stayed healthy and played a nice role for the team. Grade: B-

Goalies

Tristan Jarry [2-3-1, .859 save%, 3.92 GAA]: To avoid sugar coating it, Tristan Jarry has been one of the worst goalies in the NHL so far this season.

It’s just a start, but by any stat he has among the lowest save % in the league, and lowest expected results of what he has done, once defenses are normalized. It’s been a struggle for him, that the team needs to figure out how to help him turnaround and return to the All-Star caliber goalie that we saw last year. Grade: F

Casey DeSmith [3-1-0, .882 save%, 2.85 GAA]: DeSmith has continued to battle and keep the Pens in games. Winning three of his four starts is great for a backup goalie, and his loss might have been his finest overall game, allowing just 2 goals behind a very depleted defensive lineup. DeSmith has also been down towards the bottom of the league in expected saves and has a below average save%, but he’s also played better than Jarry so far. Grade: C-

Overall injuries have made life tough on both of these groups so far, and the road ahead is probably going to be bumpy for a while. In a sense, the individuals seem to not be coming together to be “more than the sum of their parts” as the saying goes, in a way they look to be lesser, in the big picture. There’s still plenty of time to correct that and likely the massive and significant injuries sustained are the biggest driver of inconsistency and overall malaise.