The Problematic Pittsburgh Goaltending Situation

Tristan Jarry in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming into this offseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins organization had many decisions that needed to be made, not the least of which was what to do between the pipes. Their goaltending duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith was average at best during the 2022-23 season, with injuries contributing largely to that struggle. Jarry was out with injury for much of the early goings in 2023 and stated after the season was over that he was battling through many different injuries throughout the entire season. This left Casey DeSmith to carry a big workload for a born backup, and he won only 15 games out of his 33 starts during the year. Between that and a lack of goaltending depth in their farm system, it was obvious that something needed to change for the Penguins coming into the 2023-24 season.

The free agent pool this offseason, as far as netminders were concerned, was rather shallow, with only a handful of them able to potentially fill the starting role. This left a crucial decision to be made: Should the Penguins test the market and try to bring a new starter in, or should they go all in on Jarry and hope that the injury problems wouldn’t affect the team in the long run? Ultimately, the Penguins and GM Kyle Dubas landed on Tristan Jarry and a 5-year contract worth an average of $5.375 per year. This left many fans frustrated and confused–given the fact that Jarry’s injury-prone nature played a large part in their first-round playoff loss to the Rangers in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs–but many have forgotten what Jarry is capable of when healthy.

Since the departure of Matt Murray from the Penguins organization in 2020, Tristan Jarry has been Pittsburgh’s number one man between the pipes–and his new contract has only solidified the fact that he will continue to be trusted as the Penguins starter going forward. Over the course of his career, Jarry has a record of 117-60-20, along with a goals-against average of 2.65 and a save percentage of .914. This past year, his numbers didn’t look quite as good, going 24-13-7 with a 2.90 GAA and a .909 SV%. However, with injury being a large factor during the past season, his numbers could very well rise again this year if he is able to stay healthy. Jarry is a two-time All-Star, and he undoubtedly has the skill to be a top goalie in the league, but if he continues to be as injury-prone as we’ve seen in the past, Pittsburgh is going to have to lean on their depth goaltenders to get the job done. 

The depth of Pittsburgh’s goalies, however, is somewhat of a puzzle. After letting their third-string UFA Dustin Tokarski walk at the beginning of the offseason, Pittsburgh had to find someone to fill in that slot–which they did by signing goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg in free agency. This seemed to be a great depth move by Dubas, allowing Nedeljkovic and Hellberg to be the third and fourth goalies, respectively. However, when Casey DeSmith got moved to the Montreal Canadiens in the Penguins’ trade for Erik Karlsson, Nedeljkovic–who last year played more time in the AHL than the NHL–suddenly found himself in an NHL backup goaltending position. 

NHL hockey is nothing new to Nedeljkovic, who was the starting netminder for the Detroit Red Wings for the entirety of the 2021-22 season, but over the course of his NHL career, you can’t help but see two extremes. In his rookie year with the Carolina Hurricanes, Nedeljkovic posted an impressive 1.90 GAA and a .932 SV%, along with being nominated for the Calder trophy. However, after being dealt to the Red Wings for veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier, his game changed drastically. As the Wings’ starting goalie in the 2021-22 season, he played in 59 games (starting 52 of them) and finished the season with a record of 20-24-9, a GAA of 3.31, and a SV% of .901. This past season in Detroit was even worse for Nedeljkovic, starting only 13 games for the Wings and posting a horrendous 3.53 GAA and a .895 SV%. There are more factors to these stats than Nedeljkovic simply playing well or not, the defense in front of him being one of the biggest. Carolina has always been a remarkable team defensively, and Detroit, over the time they had Nedeljkovic in net, has been anything but. So this would leave one to assume that Nedeljokovic’s skill lies somewhere in between his amazing rookie year and his tumultuous time in Detroit. Coming into Pittsburgh, he will most definitely have something to prove to the team, but especially to himself. If Nedeljkovic can find his game again, playing behind a solid defensive core like the Penguins have, he could very well become the backup goalie Pittsburgh has been needing.

As we look forward to the season to come for the Penguins, there are a lot of ifs. If Jarry stays healthy, then he could become the elite goalie that we’ve seen glimpses of throughout his career; if Nedeljkovic finds his game, he could become the solid backup Pittsburgh has been in need of for so long. If injuries become too big of a problem between the pipes, more moves might just need to be made. With so much up in the air for Pittsburgh in the net, one can only hope that it plays out for the best; if luck is on their side, this season will be one to remember for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

One thought on “The Problematic Pittsburgh Goaltending Situation”

  1. I’m of the mind that Dubas will do something. If things go south and Jarry spends significant time in the IR, there will be change made I am sure.

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