The Pittsburgh Penguins sit 5-5-1 after 11 games in the pandemic and postponement-filled 2021 season. Their general manager up and quit after seven games.
The new manager, whoever it may be, isn’t even on the job, but he has a big problem from Day 1 to consider addressing. And probably immediately. Just check out this chart of 5-on-5 action, which paints a picture on some strengths and weaknesses of the Pens.
|Score Adjusted Corsi||52.5%||9th|
|Expected Goal For%||52.1%||12th|
|Scoring Chance For%||53.6%||9th|
|High Danger Scoring Chance%||51.4%||14th|
(Stats from Puck on Net and Natural Stat Trick)
Despite a mountain of injuries on defense, Pittsburgh has played admirably, and frankly has a pretty strong on-ice start to the year in terms of their process. Being top-10 in the league in most Corsi and scoring chance% metrics is indicative of a team that for the most part is controlling the better of the play at 5v5.
While not at 5v5, the team has struggled mightily on the power play, going just 1 for 21 in the last seven games while giving up two short-handed goals in that same stretch — but that’s a different story for a different time.
The Pens’ biggest problem, as has been a recurring theme in recent years, has been in the net. Despite how goaltending performance can be parsed or excused, it’s still a big time issue for the team and a major factor in why they aren’t winning many games right now.
Tristan Jarry was given a total of $10.5 million for the next three seasons to be the number one goalie for the first time, and it hasn’t gone well. After a rocky start to the season losing two games in Philadelphia and looking shaky in them, Jarry appeared to turn the corner with wins over the Rangers on January 22nd and 24th. It wasn’t to be, with two more losses in Boston to follow that up.
Since then, Jarry has only played one of the three games, and gave up four goals to the Islanders in another loss on Saturday. Four of Jarry’s games have provided under .900 save percentages. Jarry has surrendered 3+ goals in six out of seven starts.
That Pittsburgh doesn’t have a GM at the moment can only compound the frustration. Especially after being conditioned to have a very active trading general manager in Pittsburgh, the Pens now have an interim GM who has been in management for 15 weeks and never formalized, filed and completed an NHL transaction. Would he even be able to do so?
The Pens need a manager badly, they’re a team that is “all in” and trying to win this season. They’re not going to be able to win with a .887 5v5 save percentage. Some patience to allow Jarry to turn around the ship is necessary and wise, but the team also needs to consider any and all options to help improve performance.
One interesting situation to monitor is what is happening with Darcy Kuemper in Arizona. The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek made the following comment about the Pens almost two weeks ago, mostly as a throwaway line, but it’s stuck with me then. The possibility of an external fix ranges from unlikely to virtually impossible prior to the Pens figuring out the GM position, but it’s a fun thought anyways.
And if it looks as if it’s goaltending that’s ultimately holding them back, well, maybe there’s a fit there between the two rookie GMs in Pittsburgh and Arizona for Kuemper. Now that would be a fun trade scenario to ponder.
Perhaps it’s the lore and legend of a quick-to-trade manager like Rutherford to imagine the former GM getting in a bluster and making a trade like this already. We say “already”, but at 11 of 56 games played the Pens are almost 20% done with their season and can’t afford to wait forever. They also have a rescheduled March/April stretch that includes 20 games in 36 days, adding a reliable goalie doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
Who knows if that is Kuemper or not. Ideally it would still be the Jarry/ Casey DeSmith combo that makes life easier by finding more ways to keep the puck out of the net at reliable rates to stay competitive in NHL games.
Either way, right now the Pens feel like a ship in need of a managerial captain right now, perhaps now more than ever. And when the new manager gets on the job, one of the first and biggest issues that he will have to address — through action of a trade or patience in standing tight — will have a major impact on the 2021 season.