2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins season preview: Gary and Dessmith ride again

After looking at the attackers and then the defensemen in the Penguins season preview, it’s now up to the guys in the big pads standing in front of the fast-moving pucks.

NHL goalkeepers

It’s odd to say that goalkeepers were mostly strong last year, considering the Penguins’ season ended primarily due to poor goalkeeping and that’s the lasting memory. However, it is still true that for the regular season, the pens have had an incredibly high level of play towards goal.

In a 5v5 savings ratio, Pittsburgh finished sixth in the season for joint goalie performance across the league by this measure. Expand that to all situations – important since a goal in a game of strength, shorthand, or 4v4 was given up just as much as in regular 5v5 – and the pens were up to second place with goalkeepers stopping for a total of 0.914% of all shots seen. Only the Rangers, backed by Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin, could boast of a better saving ratio as a team.

Most of the credit for this should go to rookie Tristan Jarry, who has played the lion’s share of pen games. Gary’s 3,415 minutes last season was ranked sixth in the National Hockey League, and he would have been even higher had he not been injured in the final two weeks of the season.

The Pens also finished with the number 3 kill in the league which was also led by Gary. The Novices had .914 saves while they ranked third individually among the NHL’s regular netminders last year. Show me a great goal-kick and I’ll show you the great PK’ing team, which qualified for Pittsburgh last season.

The 2021-22 season was truly one in which Gary proved he could be one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and everything was going smoothly until the aforementioned match on April 14th against the Islanders where he suffered a broken foot.

As a result, his pens season was derailed, taking further damage when Casey Desmith suffered his second primary injury at the end of the season in as many years. Gary played admirably in Game 7, and tried his best to deliver a performance to boost Pittsburgh in the next round. In the round he admitted today, he wouldn’t have been able to start if they had actually won, which was evident given the massive lameness that was coming out of the press conference after Game Seven.

It’s also a wonder that Gary was able to play again at all last spring, considering after his daring performance to try to play he couldn’t really get his footing in the skate for a month.

It’s rarely a good thing when a player talks about being out of season about treatment and therapy rather than being free to train for next season.

Running his unit’s performance as a result will be something to watch out for. Especially considering he was very good last year and ostensibly in PK was a very strong goalkeeper. Can he repeat those great results after what has been a tough and tough off season just to get back on track? This might be a bump in the road and it’s already in the rearview mirror, but it’s worth watching while the team gets up and running. He said yesterday he’s 100% and ready to go – but then again does anyone expect any less?

organizational support

Heaven helps us all.

Pittsburgh came out and gave Dustin Tokarsky a one-way contract in free agency. It’s a good idea for the player, as he’ll get $775,000 even though he’s the third goalkeeper on the depth chart and got a ticket to start the season at Wilkes Barre, barring unforeseen circumstances at training camp. That’s a lot of money for an insurance policy, but it won’t hurt Pittsburgh’s salary cap and is all they can do to build depth in the position.

Philip Lindberg isn’t really a rookie, but he was only able to play seven AHL games in the first few weeks of the season before suffering a season-ending injury, so he might be. He’s a player with a high ceiling that so many in the organization have, had he not been injured last year, there would have been a very good chance he would have been given a chance to play in the NHL with the other injuries.

prospects

The position of the goalkeeper is so important in hockey that it is best to reduce the question marks. Casey DeSmith has seen his ups and downs but has come out to be one of the best performing reserve guards in the league over the past few seasons. Gary had his peaks and valleys too, and now in his contract year he will be hungry to finally prove he can lead the team into the playoffs. The organization is stocked behind as well as can be planned, with the team paying a premium for a 33-year-old ‘AAAA’ goalkeeper with 76 NHL games at Tokarski and also a talented youngster at Lindberg.

The pens don’t feature Shesterkin or Andrei Vasilievskiy, but they are built from top to bottom to bring depth and talent throughout the position and across the organization. The challenge and questions will be how to keep my neighbor straight, healthy, confident and ready for the playoffs.

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