“It’s just another game against a different team.”
Those were the words from Pittsburgh netminder Tristan Jarry after his 1-0 shutout of the New York Islanders Friday night, the first meeting between the clubs since the Isles knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs in the first round.
It was the fifth consecutive win for Jarry and the Penguins, with the goaltender notching three shutouts in that span. Those wins have elevated him to about No. 5 in the league overall among goaltenders with 10 wins, a .936 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average.
Jarry was playing it cool, but this performance had to be extra satisfying after a postseason letdown where he went 2-4 with an .888 save percentage, 3.18 goals-against average and a stunning puckhandling gaffe in overtime of Game 5.
“It’s another team where we get to play a whole bunch of different teams this year; we’re not playing the same team over and over,” Jarry added, doubling down when asked again about his satisfaction. “I think it’s just having the mindset of it’s a new game, it’s a new team and it’s a new start for me.”
Sure, the Islanders were reeling with seven straight losses. They were also missing nine regulars, seven due to COVID-19 and two due to injury, including some pretty big names like Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and captain Anders Lee.
Still, the Islanders remain the Islanders, with the same style of play that made it unsurprising that it ended up on Jarry’s shoulders to make a 1-0 margin of victory stick.
The Penguins came out firing in an attempt to take an early lead, at one point leading 10-1 in shots, but couldn’t crack the Islanders or goalie Ilya Sorokin. When the play began to even out, Jarry was there, giving Pittsburgh an opportunity to win, just as he’s been doing most nights this season.
“I think that’s been my mindset this year; I just want to put my best foot forward and make sure I’m doing my part to try to help the team,” Jarry said. “The guys are doing a great job in front of me blocking shots, making sure we’re getting pucks deep, and I think that’s been the key over our last five games.”
Over those past five games, Jarry has allowed a total of just two goals, with a .986 save percentage and .040 goals-against average.
“He’s just confident; you can tell,” said forward Kasperi Kapanen, whose own confidence was on display with a one-timer that gave the Penguins the 1-0 lead. “He’s calm and he’s poised in net, and that gives us confidence. I feel like as a group, ever since he’s been playing well, we’ve been playing well, too. He’s been a big key for our success.”
“I just think he’s continuing to grow as a player and as a person,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “This is a hard league, and it’s a hard position to play. We’ve said all along how much we believe in him, because we believe he’s a really talented goaltender and very capable. He’s worked extremely hard in the offseason [and] throughout training camp to put himself in a position to be successful. Now he’s going to take each game as it comes, put his best game on the ice and he’s going to learn through each experience.
“I’m sure he found some satisfaction in this one tonight, and he should. He played extremely well against a good team, and this is a hard building to play in. I think he’s playing his best hockey for us as a Pittsburgh Penguin right now.”
The Penguins as a whole are playing some pretty good hockey, and they’re making up some critical ground in the standings. With 24 points in 20 games, they’ve risen to fifth in the Metro Division, eighth in the Eastern Conference. After a season of dealing with COVID-19 and injuries, they’re mostly healthy as they wait on the return of Evgeni Malkin in a month or so – and, as of Friday night’s warmups, a new, to-be-evaluated lower-body injury to forward Bryan Rust.
And with the win over the Islanders, the Penguins showed they can start a game with energy and carry it through a 60-minute effort, even if they don’t get rewarded on the scoreboard from the get-go.
“I think it meant a lot for everybody that was there last year,” Kapanen said. “We didn’t like the way it ended, and they’re still a good team, even though they’re missing some guys. We’ve got a lot of energy and confidence in the way we’re playing and, when we stick to our structure, that’s what it looks like. It doesn’t matter what [opponent] it is; I feel like we’re a very good team.”
“We’re just trying to be a forward-thinking group here,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking at this season as a new challenge. We’re just going to try to take each game as it comes and win that game right in front of us, and we’ll see where it takes us.”