The NHL’s All-Star break represents the ideal time to reflect on how the season has unfolded to this point, and to determine where unexpected performances have swung the competitive tides. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit third in the cutthroat Metropolitan Division, and sixth in the NHL overall, defying the naysayers who marked them for dead without their pair of recovering superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
One of the primary drivers of Pittsburgh’s sturdy standing at the midseason mark is Tristan Jarry, the beleaguered netminder who imploded spectacularly in last year’s playoffs, throwing his Penguins’ future into jeopardy. Yet, he’s rebounded admirably, and has a legitimate claim to be in the Vezina Trophy discussion this season. Let’s dig into Jarry’s resurgence.
2021 Playoffs Cast Doubt on Jarry’s Future in Pittsburgh
The Penguins harboured legitimate championship aspirations as they headed into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, pipping the Washington Capitals to the Metropolitan Division title. A potent offense (second in goals for per game) and respectable defense (14th in goals against per game) defined a team loaded with skill, but one needing to be bailed out when their eagerness in attack left them vulnerable. That’s where Jarry, the owner of a pedestrian .909 save percentage (SV%) in 38 games last season, was thrust into the spotlight.
Rather than backstop Pittsburgh past the offensively stunted New York Islanders, Jarry imploded, conceding 21 goals over six games while sporting an .888 SV% as the last line of defence. Suffice it to say, the Penguins were left flustered, and his place within the organization hung in the balance. Fortunately for the now 26-year-old netminder, general manager Ron Hextall voiced his support for the team’s latest whipping boy, and Jarry mercifully retained his spot in the Penguins’ net for the time being.
In return, Jarry has repaid the faith with his stellar displays in goal an influential factor in Pittsburgh staying afloat while their superstars nursed themselves back to health. As a result, he enters the Vezina Trophy discussion in emphatic fashion, an almost unimaginable development after his untimely postseason implosion hastily sunk Pittsburgh’s otherwise stellar 2020-21 campaign.
Jarry Stands Tall in Crosby and Malkin’s Absence
After going under the knife for a long-overdue surgery to repair an ailing wrist, Crosby was forced to wait until the end of October to make his 2021-22 season debut. Likewise, Malkin only returned to the lineup in mid-January, leaving the Penguins without at least one of their two of their most consistent offensive threats for the first part of the season. Their lengthy recoveries drastically hampered Pittsburgh’s depth, vaulting support pieces into leading roles, leaving the hockey world unsure of how to evaluate their long-term prognostication.
In tandem with the efforts of an entire cast of breakout performers, Jarry has valiantly shielded the Penguins’ twine this season, subsequently being named to the second All-Star Game of his career. In the 27 games he played prior to Malkin’s return, Jarry won 17 games and ranked fourth in SV% and second in goals-against average (GAA) among qualified goalies (minimum five games played) in that span.
Surprisingly, his numbers have since tanked, only posting a .903 SV% in his following 10 appearances. I’d take those results with a grain of salt, as the larger sample pre-dating Malkin’s return should take greater precedence. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on as the playoffs creep closer.
Jarry’s 2021-22 Season Deserves Vezina Trophy Nod
While his performance as Pittsburgh’s timely saviour is admirable enough on its own, his full-season portfolio is just as impeccable. In 37 appearances, Jarry has amassed an overall record of 23-8-6 while maintaining a sparkling .923 SV% and a stingy 2.21 goals-against average (GAA), both marks nestled within the top 10 of the goaltending leaderboards (minimum five games played). For the analytically inclined, he sits eighth in cumulative goals saved above expected (GSAx) which accounts for the difficulty of a goalie’s workload, and 14th by the corresponding per-60-minute metric. By any objective measure, he has been impenetrable.
|2019-20||20-12-1||.921 (11)||-0.3 (27)|
|2020-21||25-9-3||.909 (30)||-11.8 (57)|
|2021-22||23-8-6||.923 (7)||13.6 (8)|
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins rank within the top 10 of every team defense metric, including shots, scoring chances, and expected goals conceded at 5v5. While it’s true that Jarry’s workload isn’t as extreme as several of his positional contemporaries, that fact shouldn’t take away from his strong performance. Even with a steady support framework in place around him, he needs to be up to snuff to keep Pittsburgh within striking distance of its divisional rivals, many of which make up the NHL’s elite.
Although the skeptics will rightfully reserve judgement on Jarry until the postseason, what he’s shown thus far warrants acclaim, especially in the aftermath of a mentally draining playoff ordeal. He has insulated Pittsburgh from borderline catastrophe, and now their ship sets sail for the familiar silver chalice that’s become so accustomed to the black and yellow in recent years. Crosby and Malkin may be the hardened navigators of the sea, but Jarry functions as the vessel’s fortified exterior. If the NHL hadn’t reneged on its commitment to sending its players to the Beijing Olympics, Jarry could have found himself as one of Team Canada’s three goaltenders; he’s been that good this season.
Can Jarry Maintain Vezina-Level Form Into the Playoffs?
Through the NHL’s midseason All-Star break, Jarry has held up his end of the bargain and begun to make amends for his playoff meltdown. The Penguins are riding high as a result, and the organization has its sights set on what would be the fourth Stanley Cup of the Crosby and Malkin era. Even so, regular-season success can only sustain a fanbase for so long, and that leash shimmies ever shorter when it’s attached to a franchise highly regarded for its decade-long run of competitive excellence. Jarry has done well to reestablish a sliver of goodwill to this point, but his performance in the postseason should go a long way in cementing his place for the foreseeable future. No pressure.
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.