Cary, NC – The Carolina Hurricanes lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1 for their fifth straight loss and dimming the light on any chance of making the wild card spot for the playoffs. The light isn’t completely turned off but unless the Canes can put together a long string of wins coupled with a long string of losses by seven teams above them, the Canes will miss the playoffs again this year. GM Ron Francis has to be entertaining offers for several players such as Ron Hainsey, Lee Stempniak, Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg and even Justin Faulk.
Skinner Nets His 20th
The Penguins struck early on their first legitimate shot on net. Patric Hornqvist had the puck along the near boards and sent a hard pass to Scott Wilson camped out five feet in front of the crease. Matt Tennyson, with his stick pointing to the Jumbotron, was on Wilson’s back trying to push him out of the slot but all Wilson need to do was get his stick down and redirect the puck to blocker side of Ward for the early lead.
The Canes had two choices: submit to the Penguins’ reputation and impressive roster or make a game out of it. Good news is they chose the latter as their play improved dramatically. The Pens had an almost identical paly a few minutes later but good news is this time Faulk was the defender and got position on his man, tied him up and, more importantly, tied up the stick so no redirect could happen. Those plays don’t make the highlights but are so important on defense.
The Canes aggressive play lead to two back-to-back power plays as Evgeni Malkin drew two penalties with the second one just 21 seconds after the first expired. The Canes powerplay unit looked awesome. Their forechecking was some of their best all season as they kept the puck in the Pens end for 110 seconds of the first powerplay. The first unit was out on the second power play and like the first, were relentless on keeping the puck in the zone. The puck was in the far corner with two Canes and Pens vying for the puck. The puck squirted up the boards to an open Penquin but DiGiuseppe came from the corner dove to intercept the puck pushing it to Stempniak who fed Jeff Skinner in the sweet spot of the slot who went top shelf for his 20th of the year and tied the game at one apiece invigorating not only his teammates but the Caniacs.
The period end at one-all but the Canes had the better play in every category. Shots 14-7, missed shots 6-1, attempts blocked 6-0, add those up and the Canes attempted 26 shots to the Pens eight. The Canes even led in hits, 12-6.
Penguins Convert 5-on-3
The Canes continued their strong play into the second and the Caniacs were appreciative. The Penguins have a strong following in Raleigh and their fans do get louder as the game goes on so seeing the Caniacs respond in a friendly fan manner is always fun to watch. The Canes aggressiveness seemed to get under the skin of a few Penguins. Sidney Crosby, who is as talented a player as you’ll find, has had the reputation of a whiner and somewhat a player for cheap plays his entire career.
Well behind the play, Crosby slashed Brock McGinn on the side of the knee sending McGinn to the ice in obvious pain. The back ref, as well as nearly every Caniac, saw the play with the ref blowing the whistle and the Caniacs booing while the Pen fans were saying it was a legal check. During the TV timeout, Crosby was mouthing off to the ref the entire time. Later in the period, again behind the play, Crosby had another questionable play against Victor Rask.
As play went down to the Canes end as they were already a man down with Sebastian Aho in the box, Stalberg retaliated maybe a bit too much and wound up breaking Hornqvist’s stick with a slash. Giving the Pens a normal powerplay is asking for trouble, giving them over a minute of 5-on-3 is time to start praying. Phil Kessel grabbed the puck along the near half boards, circled up top to the center then sent a wrister towards the net along the ice.
Once again, body position and on the player defensively was there but not tying up the stick proved fatal as Crosby redirected the puck into the net giving the Pens the 2-1 lead and make that four tip-ins against the Canes in the past two games. That has to be corrected.
Malkin Seals Win
The Canes lost steam in the third and the Pens, knowing how to win and be a winner, kept the attack going. Where the Canes were first to the puck in the first half of the game, the Penguins were now that one stride faster. It was going to either be if the Canes could catch a break or when the Penguins scoring machine would strike again.
On what was a very good hockey play, Carl Haglin had the puck to Ward’s right and was going to the corner but sent a back hand pass to the clot as he saw Malkin going to the net as Rask was a stride behind him. Malkin slammed home the pass for the back breaker and it was game over at that time. The Canes had possibly their best 30 minutes of hockey early in the game but could not keep up that pace for the full 60 minutes.
This year’s draft is weak, in fact some say very weak. I’m not sure what good a fourth, fifth or sixth round pick would mean over a known prospect making GM Francis’ decisions difficult. It all depends on what he’s willing to give up and how well he can negotiate.
Next home game is Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7:30 PM against Ottawa. Be There!