Penguins sign goalie DeSmith to cheap, smart extension

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are guilty of their fair share of salary cap snafus (screams in horror at Jack Johnson‘s contract), but they’re among the NHL’s sharpest when it comes to handling their goalies.

Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been absolutely outstanding in Vegas, but there are many teams that saddle themselves with problem contracts.

Instead, the Penguins have found ways to carve out impressive flexibility at the position by being proactive.

While Matt Murray‘s struggled with injuries and the occasional bout of inconsistency, he’s only carrying a $3.75M cap hit through 2019-20, and Pittsburgh locked him up after his brilliant work in their 2015-16 championship run.

Now they’ve managed to land some cost certainty with Casey DeSmith, as the team announced a three-year extension that will carry a paltry $1.25M cap hit beginning next season.

“Since joining the Penguins’ organization, Casey has excelled for us at every level, first in Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and now here in Pittsburgh,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “We’re pleased to have him signed with our organization for the next three-and-a-half seasons.”

Rutherford isn’t wrong there.

Obviously, Smith’s NHL numbers jump out at you first. The 27-year-old is 12-7-4 with a splendid .924 save percentage this season, and he also has a .923 save percentage over 40 career NHL games. Sean Tierney’s visualization of Corsica’s Goals Saved Against Average numbers show that DeSmith’s been one of the more valuable netminders so far in 2018-19:

Now, sure, it’s likely that DeSmith will cool off from here, but the Penguins aren’t really making that large of an investment in him. This decision compares nicely to the Predators locking down Juuse Saros for three years at $1.5M a pop (Saros has the better pedigree; DeSmith’s having the better 2018-19).

And, as Rutherford mentioned, DeSmith’s had success at other levels.

Check his AHL and NCAA numbers and you’ll see that DeSmith’s enjoyed success in most other seasons. That might not sounds like much, but compare his work at other levels to, say, Scott Darling, who faced a bumpy road through the ECHL and other leagues before things took off for him starting in 2013-14.

It’s not that difficult to picture a scenario where DeSmith got a much richer deal if he waited, particularly if he was the guy who helped Pittsburgh make a big run.

Instead, the Penguins went low-risk, with some enticing potential rewards.

The best-case scenario is that DeSmith ends up being a legitimate difference-maker who can sport something close to a .920 save percentage at that bargain-basement price. The worst? Maybe DeSmith flops and the Penguins have to buy him out or bury his contract in the AHL, while possibly stunting the growth of Tristan Jarry and others.

Cutting in between, it’s quite possible that DeSmith could be a useful backup who might be able to provide relief if Murray struggles or gets hurt.

***

Looking at the Penguins’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, there are a lot of players above the age of 30 who are receiving a lot of money and sometimes-scary term. There are risks of the Penguins slipping into a Kings-like lull if too many players hit the wall.

Still, Murray and DeSmith will carry just a $5M cap hit next season, compared to $6M per year for 32-year-old Jonathan Quick.

Sure, it’s easier to herd cats than predict which goalies will excel in a given year, but all things considered, this is some masterful work by the Penguins.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the league, with wins in eight straight games. They defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Friday night in a 33-save shutout by Matt Murray. After struggling to start the year and missing time with an injury, Murray has now won seven in a row, matching the best stretch of his career.

Sidney Crosby is riding a six-game point streak (3G, 10A) and has 51 points (19G-32A) in 38 games this season, a 1.34 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg). He’ll skate in his 903rd career regular-season game as he closes in on Mario Lemieux’s franchise record (915 GP).

Kris Letang has also tallied a point in six straight games (3G, 6A) and is leading the team in time on ice per game during the winning streak (26:16).

Erik Gustafsson leads all Blackhawks defensemen with 23 points and eight goals, both of which are already career highs for the 26-year-old, who is in his third NHL season. Jeremy Colliton scratched Gustafsson on December 2, and since being benched, Gustafsson has responded with 12 points (4G, 8A) in 13 games.

Gustafsson has been on the top pair with Duncan Keith while Henri Jokiharju is at World Juniors. He has also been the primary point man on the power play unit.

“He’s got the world at his feet if he wants…we push him because we know he can do it,” said Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “At times, he does do it, as far as his gap and being aggressive to get pucks back, and being physical at times, and even better around his own net. He can do it. It’s not a question of ability. It’s a question of committing to it. So it’s an easy decision to try to hold him accountable, because he can give us so much.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Sunday, Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan StromePatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfBrendan Perlini
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerDrake Caggiula

Duncan Keith – Erik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick BrassardPhil Kessel
Riley SheahanMatt CullenZach Aston-Reese

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith

MORE: Kris Letang is playing the best hockey of his career

The Buzzer: Seguin shines for Stars; Another big night for Avs

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen

Friday was another night where the Avalanche’s big three forwards (Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog) all factored into the win; in fact, each player nabbed at least one goal. You may be shocked to learn that Colorado is undefeated in 2018-19 when all three notch at least a single tally.

Consider this a “shared” number one between Rantanen, MacKinnon, and Tyson Barrie, as they’re the three players who managed three points on Friday.

You could actually argue that MacKinnon enjoyed the better night, as he logged more ice time, didn’t take any penalties (Rantanen was whistled for four PIM), and fired an impressive eight shots on goal. Rantanen because two of his three points were goals, and one of those goals stood as the game-winner. Again, all three had a great night, so feel free to remix this as the Avalanche sweeping the three stars, if that give you warm and fuzzy feelings.

We’ll get to Barrie’s milestone accomplishment in the factoids section.

2. Matt Murray

Did the Penguins go into the Spider-verse and channel playoff Matt Murray? The 24-year-old generated a 33-save shutout, and it came against the lethal Jets offense, which (clicks on calculator) should then make this could as a double-decker shutout. Or something.

Seriously though, Murray is on a streak that’s just about as impressive as the one his team is on. While the Penguins have won eight in a row, Murray is personally only one behind, as he’s on a seven-game winning streak. He’s generated two shutouts during that run, and the most goals he’s allowed in one game was three, and that only happened once.

The Penguins have added to their winning streak since this post went up, yet the thesis remains: goaltending is leading the way, and Murray + Casey DeSmith are almost certain to cool off eventually. Even so, this is a remarkable run, and Friday stands as one of Murray’s best performances.

3. Tyler Seguin

Seguin joined Rantanen as the only two players to generate two goals on Friday, and while Rantanen managed his three-point output in a 6-1 laugher, the Stars needed every bit of offense that they got from Seguin.

The scapegoated Stars star scored both of Dallas’ goals in a 2-1 OT win against the Capitals, firing four SOG.

Seguin also managed this performance without Jamie Benn, as the Stars’ captain missed the contest with an injury. Seguin’s now has two goals in each of the last two games, while extending his overall point streak to four contests (two goals, two assists).

People are going to rush to give Stars CEO Jim Lites a ton of credit for blaming Seguin and Benn while using language suited for 30-minute HBO stand-up specials, but make no mistake about it: Seguin deserves the praise.

Highlights of the night

Opinion: someone should check Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou for an actual turbo button. How else could you explain this second sixth gear?

This is more of a lowlight, but still:

We should all root for an extended Hurricanes winning streak, just to see if they run out of elaborate celebrations:

Sweet shootout moves from Drew Stafford.

Factoids

A reminder that the Avs have employed some great defensemen, but few of them for very long. Also: that Tyson Barrie probably deserves more hype as an impressive scorer. Barrie scored 57 points last season … and that was in just 68 games. He’s now at 30 in 38 games for 2018-19 after a three-assist (possibly three-star-worthy) Friday, and managed an impressive feat:

In case you’re wondering, John-Michael Liles had 275 points in 523 Avs games, while Barrie hit 278 in 444.

Dylan Larkin has basically half of a season to either tie the single-season record for overtime goals, or he could end up all alone with six or more.

The Jets/Thrashers haven’t won in Pittsburgh in a long time, and the Stars have had similar success against the Capitals when they’ve come to Dallas.

Scores

Penguins 4, Jets 0
Red Wings 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 4, Blue Jackets 2
Stars 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
Avalanche 6, Rangers 1
Devils 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)
Golden Knights 3, Ducks 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins crush Rangers, extend winning streak to seven games

When you’re hot, you hot.

And the Pittsburgh Penguins are pipping, just pulled from the oven, hot at the moment.

Really, the Penguins are just following the script they’ve laid out in years past: trick everyone into thinking they’re finally donzo only to rise from the proverbial dead at some point during the season and slide into the playoffs like a well-timed direct message.

Wednesday’s 7-2 win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday Night Hockey was just another line that needed to be read in the play.

The Pens have rattled off seven straight wins and 12 of their past 15, with points in 13 of those. Math is hard, but this is a pretty easy equation to work out. The Penguins have been good — really good — as of late.

Of course, this has come courtesy of some stellar play by individuals on the team.

Sidney Crosby had two more points, pushing his total to 21 in his past 15 games.

Jake Guentzel scored again and added an assist, giving him 14 points during that span. Kris Letang also had a goal and an apple, and he has 15 points in his past 14 games.

And then there’s Matt Murray, whose personal resurrection has given him six wins now on the trot, with his save percentage in those six games not dropping below a .927.

The switcheroo Murray has pulled off is staggering.

In the first 11 games prior to his injury troubles, he was 4-5-1 with an abysmal 4.08 goals-against average and a .877 save percentage. Since returning — entering Wednesday — he was 5-0-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage.

It’s quite ridiculous (and likely unsustainable). Murray stopped 28 shots in the game for another solid outing.

The loss for the Rangers comes after putting together back-to-back wins.

New York’s success largely runs through Henrik Lundqvist and his performance on any given night. ‘The King’ allowed six goals on 18 shots for an ugly .667 save percentage before getting the mercy pull in favor Alexandar Georgiev, with Tanner Pearson‘s fifth in Pittsburgh threads providing the final dagger on Lundqvist’s night.

The Rangers are still within reach of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, sitting six points behind the idle Montreal Canadiens. They’re going to need more scoring and better goaltending if they’re to make a second-half run here.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Both of these teams are headed in the right direction after rough stretches earlier this season. For Pittsburgh, a 1-7-2 mark from late October into November dropped its record to 7-8-4 and they sat last in the Metro. They’ve since turned things around and their current win streak has catapulted them into the top-3 in the division on the strength of both a strong offensive and defensive showing.

New York, meanwhile, and first-year head coach David Quinn, began the season 0-3-0 and lost 11 of 14 (3-6-5) since Thanksgiving before going on the road and winning its last two games at Nashville and St. Louis. The Rangers return home now, but only briefly as they are in the midst of a period that takes them on the road (see schedule below) after they ended 2018 with a majority of home games.

Pittsburgh’s “Big 3” is leading the way once again as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin are the top three on the team in points. Crosby has 48 points (18G-30A) in 36 games this season, a 1.33 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg).

Perhaps the best story on the Rangers this season has been the play of Chris Kreider, who leads the team with 20 goals (2nd-best is Mika Zibanejad w/ 11). You’ll remember he missed 24 games last season with a blood clot. Kreider has an active 5-game point streak (5G-3A)

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick Brassard – Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-ReeseMatt CullenRiley Sheahan

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Jesper Fast
Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Boo NievesBrett HowdenPavel Buchnevich
Cody McLeodRyan StromeFilip Chytil

Marc StaalNeal Pionk
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Penguins-Rangers from Madison Square Garden.