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Goaltending is becoming an unexpected Penguins strength

The Penguins are allowing one of the highest shots-against rates in the NHL. Tristan Jarry seems up to the task.

Vegas Golden Knights v Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry stands in net against the visiting Golden Knights on December 1.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins went 4-0-1 in their first five games. 0-6-1 in the next seven. Then 13-2-2 over the past month.

Among those three separate records, Tristan Jarry’s save percentages have been: .941, .867 and .930.

Is Jarry a cause, or a consequent, of the Penguins’ recent success?

Here’s the case for Jarry’s play being one of the factors leading the Penguins’ improvement: one thing that hasn’t changed throughout these wildly different stretches of the 2022-23 season is that the Penguins have consistently had one of the most porous defenses in the NHL.

At an average of 34 shots against per game, the Penguins edge out only four non-playoff teams— the Ducks, Blue Jackets, Coyotes and Blackhawks— for the title of the most shot-against team in the league.

Although the Penguins’ shots-against average has remained similar throughout the season, their number of goals against has changed dramatically. During the seven-game winless streak, the Penguins were allowing 4.8 goals against per game. Compare that to this past month, during which the Pens cut that to 2.4.

Is Jarry buckling down in net, and therefore ensuring the Penguins had to score less to win, what has allowed the team to find a rhythm?

The Penguins allow a high number of shots against, but force many of them to lower-danger areas. Shot map by hockeyviz.

But here’s the case for Jarry’s turnaround being led by the team: although the Penguins have seen shots against at a steady rate throughout the season, the Penguins were allowing many more high-danger shots against during the losing streak, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s something anyone watching the defensive breakdowns could have told you.

Over the past month, the Penguins’ defense has improved. They are now a mid-level NHL team when it comes to limiting those dangerous chances.

Because most shots against are now coming from relatively easier-to-see spots on the ice, Jarry and DeSmith aren’t getting besieged to the same level as some of the other goaltenders facing this many shots against per night. Sorry, John Gibson. And this might be offering Jarry more of a chance to succeed.

Either way, the Penguins are now one of just eight NHL teams with two goaltenders boasting save percentages of over .900. (Jarry sits at .919 SV% through 18 games, while Casey DeSmith is at .916 through 10.)

Those numbers might not have been as rare during a normal season. As goals climb league-wide, save percentages are plummeting. Heading into Monday, only 45 goaltenders held a plus-.900 SV%, compared to over 60 at this point last year.

Whether Jarry is a cause or a consequence of the Penguins’ recent success, one thing is for sure: he has been consistently good enough to backstop the Penguins to wins. That’s not even to mention DeSmith, who, despite not seeing much action during Jarry’s current hot streak, looked impressively sharp during his first appearance in two weeks this past Saturday.

Is it too early to think about what some early-season confidence-building could do to impact these two’s outlook next April?

After all, Jarry is now riding a career-high point streak of 11 games (9-0-2).