In a rare, but lovely, four day break in play for the Penguins, we look at some various questions and observations as the regular season gets closer to ending.
#1: With Tristan Jarry’s injury, can the Penguins win with Casey DeSmith?
This is the million dollar question, and the news of Jarry’s reportedly broken foot suffered less than three weeks from the start of the playoffs is about the worst timing possible for the Pens. It really sucks for Jarry, he’s been a consistent and top-10ish or better goalie all season long. He should be gearing up to have the chance to erase last spring’s debacle. Instead, with a busted wheel it seems likely he will be powerless to help in the playoffs — at least at first.
Just how much of a drop-off to Casey DeSmith is it for the Pens? Let’s take a look.
Performance-wise, there is a a big difference in the goalies. DeSmith has been better in the second half of the season, but he’s needed to rebound just to get to average. Jarry has been a workhorse and one of the league’s top players at his position.
The last number, though somewhat crude, is telling as well. The Penguins just don’t win as much with Casey DeSmith as their goalie. This year, he only has eight wins in 20 starts. Overall, in his career DeSmith has 40 wins in 78 starts, or 51.2% of his games. In the last five seasons from 2017-18 - present, Pittsburgh has won 171 out of 288 that DeSmith hasn’t started (59.4%).
Especially with a first round series that could see Pittsburgh play a Vezina finalist like Igor Shesterkin or Frederik Andersen (assuming health for the latter is fine), that’s a really steep hill for the Pens to climb. It’s not too often the lesser goalie wins a playoff series — and DeSmith versus just about anyone is going to mean the Penguins are going to have the lesser goalie.
Folks fondly recall Jeff Zatkoff as “Mr. Game 1” for his very real heroics and solid play that helped the Pens beat the Rangers in the first game of a playoff series in 2016. However, there’s a reason Zatkoff isn’t known as “Mr. Games 1 and 2” or “Mr. Won a Series”, because the clock promptly struck midnight on that Cinderella story when Zatkoff gave up four goals on 28 shots and lost Game 2 and then didn’t play again. Smoke and mirrors can only get so far in the NHL playoffs.
#2: Are there any signs the Pens can overcome goaltending?
Despite dealing with now average at best netminding, the way Pittsburgh has played could work to their advantage. For instance, a quick and dirty look at how the Penguins made the playoffs can also shed some insight on team strengths (and weaknesses).
How Pittsburgh did it: By generating offence in the centre of ice and keeping their opponents from taking shots close to their net. Finishing is a real problem, maybe bad enough to sink them if they run cold. pic.twitter.com/b961gOIdxL— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 18, 2022
The Pens’ process overall is built to achieve success, in the simplest way, because they shoot a lot from in front of the net and they prevent the other team from doing the same. If the defense really buckles down and the forwards also just help keep the puck outside of the defensive zone, Pittsburgh could insulate and probably survive average goaltending with their skater play.
However, as Micah mentions in the tweet, finishing goals has been an issue. Pittsburgh’s offense is likely going to have to generate 4+ goals per game to win moving forward. If their goalie gives up two weak goals in the first two minutes of the game again, they have to almost pretend like it didn’t happen and just keep pressing onward. This is difficult, if not impossible, because players are human and emotional and games don’t happen in vacuums.
Goaltending is always the beginning and end of all playoff hopes, but the Penguins really need to start cashing in goals of their own, regardless of who is standing in their net.
#3: Which Penguin can use the four day break the most?
The list is pretty long of Penguin players who look out of gas. Brian Dumoulin has not had a great second half of the season. John Marino is floundering as well. Jeff Carter has seemed to look his age. Multiple players have battled an illness that swept the locker-room.
And look, the Pens played 19 games in a 37 day stretch from March 11th - April 16th. It was a very hectic period that saw some Western travel, back-to-backs and not a ton of rest of practice time.
While a lot of people are calling for so-and-so to get a day off or rest, that is an impossibility given the salary cap and to outright rest any veterans. The forwards are already all hands on deck with the Malkin suspension lasting one more game. Defensively there is a bit more leeway with one healthy scratch right now, but the Pens aren’t in a position to rest for rest’s sake at this point. The games are important and getting down the regular season playing well and trying to peak for the playoffs remains more of a priority than sitting a key player.
Pittsburgh is one of the older teams in the league, and getting four days off is a very nice gift. While all can use it, ideally Dumoulin and Carter will benefit the most from a few days to heal up and re-gain some energy.
Dumoulin, as we will see below, is back to practicing with Kris Letang. It’s not like a few days off is going to turn him into the 2017 or 2018 version of himself, but increased performance out of Dumoulin isn’t too much to ask for considering he’s been at his poorest in some regards recently playing with Marino.
Carter needs to get going, since as mentioned above, games off is not an option. The Pens are going to lean into playing Carter more — not less — in order to see what they can get out of him in the future.
#4: Let the monetization begin
Last year, NHL teams announced they would sell ads on their helmets and their was fan backlash, replaced gradually by normalization and eventually not really noticing what is on the side of the helmets. Predictably, teams are finding more ways to make money by selling space on their jerseys.
The Penguins have announced their sponsors, and please, let’s have an obvious joke about needing the medical angle.
The @Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield logo will be worn for all pre-season, regular-season, and postseason home games in which the team wears its black home jerseys.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 19, 2022
Full details: https://t.co/unBD0TJ2NN pic.twitter.com/PjRDD45zvq
Is it tacky? Sure. Will we also probably not really notice it after about 20 games? Also yes.
A move like this has been slowly coming along for a while, the team has sold ad space on their practice jerseys for several years now.
#5: Pettersson and Marino, take 185
After two days off the ice completely, the Pens got back at it with a practice on Tuesday. The defensive pairs were shuffled again.
Here is the Penguins' workflow, keeping in mind that Malkin has one game left to serve in his suspension:— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 19, 2022
Down the stretch, seeing how much Dumoulin has left in the tank is going to be crucial. A 100% Brian Dumoulin is the best bet to fix the defense. Does that player currently exist in full form? It’s a question without a known answer at the moment.
Written a ton about how Pettersson-Marino offers everything on paper in terms of defensive results one would want to see, but somehow ends up being less than the sum of its parts on the ice, which unfortunately is also how Marcus Pettersson’s career has developed in Pittsburgh over the past few months and years. Will this time be different and the two find a way to stay together? Don’t really see why it would be different and a long-lasting reunion, but there’s always hope this time of year.