Backup goaltenders generally have a quick expiration date in the NHL, and with so few spots in the league, one bad season could be the difference between having an NHL job or spending the next few years earning that spot back in the minors. The 2021-22 season was a tale of two goalies for Pittsburgh Penguins backup Casey DeSmith.
His performance early in the year changed the landscape of the Penguins season. DeSmith went winless (0-3-1) in his first four starts allowing 4.25 goals per game. He was off his angles and giving up juicy rebounds on nearly every opposing rush. Due to his struggles, those four games spanned the entirety of the first two months of the season.
DeSmith's woes, and injuries at the forward position, forced starter Tristan Jarry into becoming one of the most played starting goaltenders in the NHL. Jarry rose to the occasion and put up stellar numbers (10-4-4 / .938 Sv% / 1.88 GAA).
However, Jarry's usage was becoming an issue. Playing for his position on the NHL team, DeSmith began to turn things around in December. From then on, DeSmith logged impressive numbers the rest of the season (11-3-4 / .924 Sv% / 2.23 GAA).
He capped off an impressive stretch run with a dominant performance in Game 1 of the Penguins series against the New York Rangers, making 48 saves on 51 shots before sustaining a core muscle injury that would mark the end of his season.
While DeSmith's performance over the last few months of the season was impressive, the 30-year-old goaltender finished the year with a career-worst 2.79 goals against average. Many questioned whether or not the Penguins would retain DeSmith, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent.
The four-year NHL veteran never reached the open market, as the Penguins re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $1.8 million per season. There are questions about his consistency and durability, DeSmith has missed the last two postseasons due to injury, but the Penguins took a chance on him heading into the 2022-23 season.
Fortunately, DeSmith has recovered well from his surgery and was back on the ice earlier this summer to begin his rehab process. He is expected to be ready for the opening of the Penguins training camp on September 22nd.
Behind DeSmith, the Penguins have a similar situation to last season with a capable third-string goalie in Dustin Tokarski, but not someone who will push DeSmith out of the number two spot. Considering DeSmith's price tag on a one-way deal, the Penguins are putting most of the backup goalie eggs in one basket.
Getting off to a good start will be of massive importance for DeSmith. His inability to do so last season led to him only starting 26 games. He would've had less than that if not for the late season injury to Jarry, which forced DeSmith into the net for five of the final six games of the season.
Ideally, DeSmith should start between 30 to 35 games next season, allowing Jarry ample rest time and hopefully keeping both netminders healthy throughout the season. The Penguins have shown their confidence in DeSmith this summer. In return, he needs to prove them right.
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