May 27—OK, Penguins fans. Now you can say it. Goaltending really did cost them a series.
This wasn’t Matt Murray getting outdueled by Carey Price or Braden Holtby. Or Marc-Andre Fleury losing to Henrik Lundqvist twice. Or the Tampa Bay Lightning advancing by Fleury in a series when the power play went 1-35 in seven games.
Pens goalie Tristan Jarry was bad. New York Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin was really good. And the only reason the series lasted six games in the first place is that New York coach Barry Trotz was dumb enough to bench Sorokin for Semyon Varlamov for the two games the Islanders lost.
That’s why the Penguins are going home for the summer after a 5-3 Game 6 elimination defeat on Long Island. The analytics-based Money Puck site determined Jarry’s performance to be the worst by a goalie in the playoffs since 2014.
The worst thing about Jarry’s goaltending in the 2020 playoffs is that I think it may cloud the reality of what the Penguins have become.
Jarry allowed 3.50 goals per game over six contests. He single-handedly blew Game 5 in overtime with a stickhandling gaffe. So one has to wonder how the Penguins new management team of general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke will analyze the franchise’s postseason disappointment.
Do they rationalize and say, “Look, we had a first-place team that was let down by an inadequate goaltender we need to trade. So let’s not change much.”
Maybe they even go so far as to believe, “It’s a first-place team, and Jarry was in his first playoff series as a starter. He’ll get better. Let’s not overreact with the roster, or him specifically.”
Yes. Jarry’s goaltending was bad. But Hextall and Burke can’t evaluate the future of this team based exclusively on Jarry’s recent failures.
They have to be honest with themselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. With or without Jarry, this is who the Penguins are now.
They are a good regular-season team that can’t win in the playoffs.
Again. Just as they were for those frustrating years between Stanley Cup titles from 2010-2015. Tons of talent. Always contending. Usually among the favorites to hoist the Cup. And often eliminated a round or two earlier than expected, falling to a lesser-seeded team.
They’ve been bounced in the first round each of the last three years. They’ve lost four playoff series in a row. They haven’t even gotten to a Game 7 in the process of any one of them. The last two teams to beat them — the Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens — have finished behind them in the standings.
Let’s not act like this is a new phenomenon. The Penguins were upset by lesser-seeded teams in every year between 2010-14 as well.
The small matter of winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships blots out some of those bad memories. Unfortunately, though, that comparison shows us the early success of the Mike Sullivan era is starting to regress in the same way Dan Bylsma’s did.
The Penguins may have scored enough to win if they got better goaltending in Game 1 (4-3 overtime loss) and Game 6. But they had to grind through a 2-1 win in Game 2 when Varlamov gifted them the game’s first goal.
They managed 50 shots on goal in Game 5, yet could only bury two behind Sorokin. Their output in the previous two postseasons was putrid, totaling just 14 goals in eight games.
Those issues aren’t on Jarry. Yet Sullivan doesn’t sound like a coach looking for changes.
“For a lot of this series, we really liked our overall team game,” Sullivan said in the wake of Wednesday’s elimination. “We were playing to our strengths. We were playing to our identity. We were trying to dictate the terms out there. We were playing against a really good opponent as well. There is a fine line between winning and losing.”
Team captain Sidney Crosby also doesn’t seem willing to assign too much negativity to a third consecutive one-and-done postseason campaign.
“We did a lot of good things,” Crosby said Wednesday night. “For so much of this series, we had the lead. We felt comfortable about our game. We didn’t feel like we were on our heels very much at all in this series. It’s such a small margin for error.”
It feels like Crosby and Sullivan are just too close to the picture to appreciate the view of the full canvas. Maybe they are too close to each other. Maybe they are too close to everyone else in the locker room.
Hextall and Burke aren’t. And I bet significant changes will come in the offseason. Those changes may start in goal. But they won’t end there.
Nor should they.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.