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Jarry's ability to play the puck is strong attribute for Penguins

by Mark Madden / 105.9 the X

Eddie Johnston tended net in the NHL from 1962-78. That was long before the era of stickhandling goaltenders.

When asked who the pioneers were in that department, the former Penguins GM and coach said, "It wasn't [Jacques] Plante. It wasn't [Gump] Worsley. It wasn't me."

After chuckling, Johnston cited Gerry Cheevers, his former goaltending partner at Boston from 1965-72: "Cheesy was pretty good at it." Moving forward, Johnston mentioned former Penguin Tom Barrasso and Ron Hextall, best known for his play with Philadelphia (and for scoring two goals).

Tristan Jarry of the Penguins might not be truly elite at puckhandling just yet. But Johnston thinks he's pretty close.

"He's very good at it," Johnston said. "Ask our defensemen. They'll tell you. They don't always have their face in the glass. They get in position, he gets it to them, and they move it quick. That's what really helps. The defensemen don't have their back to the play all the time."

Coach Mike Sullivan agrees.

"[Jarry's] ability to play the puck really helps us," Sullivan said. "It helps us against the heavy forecheck. He can make that outlet pass. We're going out while they're coming in, and it takes a lot of pressure off our defense. 

"It's a great attribute. It certainly helps us get out of our end."

Jarry says that his puckhandling ability developed organically.

"Nobody really taught me," he said. "I didn't think of it, really, as an asset. It was something fun to do. Something I enjoyed doing."

Growing up in Surrey, B.C., Jarry played forward 'til he was 10. That doubtless added to his acumen with the puck on his blade.

Jarry sees communicating with his defensemen as greatly augmenting this particular skill.

"It's huge that they communicate with me," Jarry said. "When my back is turned, they let me know what my options are."

Sometimes the option is to shoot.

Jarry scored a goal in the American Hockey League last season while playing for the Pens' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team. He shot the puck the length of the ice into an empty net to cap a 5-1 victory at Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 14, 2018.

Jarry had a chance to do the same at the NHL level when the Penguins won 5-2 at Nashville Dec. 27, but his attempt went wide.

BTW, Jarry is also excellent at stopping the puck. The 24-year-old currently leads the NHL in all significant goaltending categories: Goals-against average (1.94), save percentage (.936) and shutouts (three).

But his stickhandling is evidence of how the position has changed.

"Now, when goalies come out of Junior, they all handle the puck," Johnston said. "Back then, in Junior, they just told you to stop it."

Jarry does that, too.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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