Backup Moving Forward

Casey DeSmith Making the Most of His Opportunities

When Casey DeSmith was called up last season, cueing his NHL debut, it was difficult to conceal the smile emblazoned on his face.

 

DeSmith worked extremely hard to reach hockey’s biggest stage, clearly happy to be in a locker room coming off their second straight Stanley Cup.

 

"I'm coming off a good season last year," said the Rochester, N.H., native at the time. "Just biding my time, working hard, doing what I can on and off the ice. Things sometimes just work themselves out when you work hard and play hard, and I'm really fortunate that that happened."

 

That hard work has continued, the same dedication that propelled the undrafted goaltender out of the University of New Hampshire onto the NHL’s radar, and after two half seasons, the pending free agent onto other NHL teams’ radars, prior to inking a three-year contract extension with the Penguins this past Friday.

 

The deal, which pays an average annual value of $1.25 million, is of great value for the goaltender who helped carry the ship this season through the Penguins’ slow start and starting netminder Matt Murray’s early season struggles and injury woes.

 

DeSmith has started 23 games this year, being the go-to option for November and much of December, before Murray returned to the ice and to form, winning nine straight appearances between Dec. 15 and Jan. 11. With Murray locked in at $3.75 million through the end of next season, the Penguins have created one of the more cost-certain crease options in the NHL.

 

It’s not a bad problem to have for general manager Jim Rutherford, who’s confident in either option.

 

“Yeah the [organization’s] confidence is huge. It happened a couple times last year and I was happy that I got the opportunity that I got last year,” DeSmith said. “This year I’ve been able to put together some good starts in a row and get some wins here. Just for the guys and management to have enough faith in me if Muzz is down, that goes a long way as far as confidence.”

 Pittsburgh is currently 11th in goals against per game, with Murray and DeSmith inked for a combined $5M, allowing the Penguins to spend more on the talent in front of them.Pittsburgh is currently 11th in goals against per game, with Murray and DeSmith inked for a combined $5M, allowing the Penguins to spend more on the talent in front of them.

After 14 games last year, recording a .921 save percentage, DeSmith has a 2.53 goals against average and identical .921 mark this year. What makes DeSmith’s emergence even more impressive is the league’s average save percentage is down to .908, from .912 last year, the lowest mark since 2008-09.

 

The stint last year, displaying DeSmith’s athletic prowess, needed with his 6-foot frame, set the tone for continuing that level of play this season.

 

“Yeah definitely, a big difference between a handful of games played to 30 something games played,” DeSmith said. “It’s a big difference as far as comfortability level and learning how to play at this high of a level.”

 

The games played mark for goaltenders is something that is being monitored even more closely in NHL circles, with workhorse goaltenders’ games being trimmed to manage minutes for teams hoping to play into early June.

 

For the last starting goaltender to win the Stanley Cup and eclipse 60 games in the regular season, you have to go back to Jonathan Quick’s 69 in 2012, when the Kings topped New Jersey. The Milford, Conn., native was otherworldly that year, sporting a 1.95 goals against average in the regular season and an incredible 1.41 goals against average and .946 save percentage as the Kings cruised to the Cup as the eight seed in the West.

 

Managing fatigue is an additional layer to the relationship between goaltenders and goaltending coaches, aside from working on technique and other facets of the game. For DeSmith, he credits a lot to constant communication with Mike Buckley, the Penguins goaltending coach for each of his two NHL seasons, as well as working together with the Wildcats in college.

 

“It’s so important,” DeSmith said. “He knows me really well as a goalie and as a person. He’s able to help me in a lot of ways that help me a little bit better than maybe someone who doesn’t know me as well.”

 As one of the smaller goaltenders in the NHL at 6-foot tall, DeSmith has relied heavily on his athleticism, much to the chagrin of the opposition.As one of the smaller goaltenders in the NHL at 6-foot tall, DeSmith has relied heavily on his athleticism, much to the chagrin of the opposition.

The new extension will set up a Murray and DeSmith goaltending contingent in the crease of Pittsburgh for the formidable future. While the NHL sample size is small, DeSmith has performed well at every stop, from college, his save percentage never dipping below .920, to the ECHL in Wheeling and the AHL in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Among NHL goaltenders with over 1,000 minutes played this season, DeSmith’s 3.72 goals saved against average is 11thin the NHL.

 

The 27-year-old is just one of many American goaltenders that have flourished in a backup role this season. Jack Campbell, of Port Huron, Mich., has played in 15 games with the Kings this year, his .930 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average both lead the NHL. In the nation’s capital, Pheonix Copley has a .914 save percentage through 17 games, while Keith Kinkaid continues his solid efforts in New Jersey with Corey Schneider on the mend.

 

Through all of the efforts of USA Hockey and their #51in30 initiative, the future of goaltending in the U.S. looks bright, a glow similarly emitting from Pittsburgh’s crease with DeSmith’s extension and his cheerful attitude radiating in the locker room.

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