This season’s Vezina Trophy race is a bit of a mess. There is a ton of parity in the NHL amongst goalies, while the two-man system that has become commonplace means we’re not getting the same high-end workhorses that we used to. So when you look way, way up at the leaderboard for save percentage, one of the names you’ll find is a certain young Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender who has been raising eyebrows.
No, not that one – the other one.
While Matt Murray has made more appearances, it’s Tristan Jarry who has carried the Penguins during an injury-ravaged season. Jarry’s .928 save percentage ranks second to Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper in the NHL (for netminders with at least 10 appearances) and dwarfs Murray’s .900 mark. But Jarry is quite happy to platoon with his two-time Stanley Cup-winning teammate.
“We both want to win and we both want to do as well as we can,” Jarry said. “We’ve been best friends so it’s something we’re able to share and be able to push each other. And we can talk about it, too.”
Jarry, 24, didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but it is surprising to see how crucial he has been to Pittsburgh’s success this season. After all, Murray was the golden child after those two Cups and Jarry had constantly been battling Casey DeSmith for the Penguins’ backup job – a battle he clearly lost last season when he played just two games in the NHL versus 47 in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
But go back a bit in history and you’ll find a player who was forged by pressure on one of junior hockey’s biggest stages, the Memorial Cup.
Jarry played for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, beginning his career as the backup to current Winnipeg Jets second-stringer Laurent Brossoit. The Oil Kings were a top outfit at the time and Broissoit helped Edmonton to the WHL final in 2013, ultimately losing to Seth Jones and the Portland Winterhawks. With Brossoit off to the pros, Jarry took over the reins the next year and the Oil Kings broke through to win the title in a rematch with Portland.
“I was able to play in a lot of games and a lot of different situations,” Jarry said. “That helped a lot, playing back-to-backs and being the starter for my last two-and-a-half years. I played in a lot of big games.”
The biggest of course, was the Memorial Cup final. London hosted in 2014, but it was the OHL champions from Guelph who punched their ticket to the championship game against Edmonton. The Storm boasted a ferocious offensive attack featuring future NHLers such as Robby Fabbri, Tyler Bertuzzi and Brock McGinn, but Jarry stood tall in a 6-3 triumph to earn Edmonton its only Memorial Cup since the team returned to the WHL in 2007-08. For Jarry, the win was the culmination of a lot of work.
“It really tested your will,” he said. “I think I played almost 100 games that year. It really tested you, going back at it every night. It was fun and we had a great outcome. It went by really quick and for it to end that way was amazing.”
Back then, Jarry was a known quantity – Pittsburgh had taken him in the second round of the 2013 draft, after all – and he was famous for having a competitive chip on his shoulder. It helped him win a Memorial Cup with the Oil Kings and this season it got him to his first NHL All-Star Game. While Murray has already shown a penchant for bouncing back in his young NHL career, it must be heartening for the Penguins to know that if they had to head into the playoffs with Jarry between the pipes, they’ve got a true gamer on their hands.
“I want to win, that’s the biggest thing,” Jarry said. “You want to be competitive every game and that helps me battle.”
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