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Penguins/Hurricanes Recap: Slow starts doom Pens in loss

The Carolina Hurricanes start out the second and third periods with early goals, and ride that to a win in Pittsburgh, 4-3 over the Pens

NHL: FEB 20 Hurricanes at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If the Penguins and Hurricanes game were to be a movie, coming into today tied in the standings for first place, the script would probably end with a thrilling finish and the best player in front of the net right at the buzzer trying to tie it up.

But it was not a Hollywood ending for Sidney Crosby and the Pens, as the captain’s last ditch efforts didn’t pay off.

And it’s only the first game between the two, anyways, so this wouldn’t really be a fitting climax of a movie anyways.

Endings weren’t really Pittsburgh’s problems, so much as beginnings were. In both the second and third period, Carolina struck an identical nine seconds into the frame to set the tone. Jordan Staal’s goal early in the second boosted the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead. The Pens got unlucky with Tristan Jarry having to funnel a rebound to the middle of the ice and the puck hoped over the sticks of Kris Letang and Jeff Carter before bouncing off of Staal and into the net.

But it was Jesper Fast’s early third period score that pushed the Canes to a lead they would never give back. Coach Mike Sullivan switched it up, he sent Crosby’s line and not Carter’s to start the third period this time, but the result ended up being the same with Carolina controlling the puck and scoring early.

Those two goals impacted the game in a major way, otherwise the Pens were mainly clean at even strength. Pittsburgh out-shot Carolina 30-23 at 5v4 and holding a 2-1 score advantage minus the early strikes. Then again, one can’t completely ignore or dismiss such major turning points in the game either.

Pittsburgh didn’t look sharp early and after getting in a 2-0 hole by nine seconds into the second period, it took some more top line magic with a flourish late in the frame to temporarily tie the game. Kris Letang got the puck to the net and Bryan Rust from in front did the rest to get the Pens on the board.

A few minutes later, the same principal players struck again. Letang doesn’t get credit for an assist on this, but his excellent indirect pass off the wall opened up a play on the rush for Jake Guentzel to hit Crosby on the left wing. Crosby was all alone and unleashed the rare-for-him slapshot goal past Antti Raanta to pull the Pens up to a 2-2 tie.

The Hurricanes pushed the score in the third period to 4-2 on the power play with a Sebastian Aho goal.

From there, Pittsburgh went into desperation mode. Evan Rodrigues was able to shake off some demons with his first goal in 18 games by scoring on a 6v4 power play (Pens had pulled goalie Jarry) with 1:12 left.

Then near the buzzer Crosby had that one last gasp chance that wouldn’t go from in front, and Carolina left Pittsburgh in sole possession of first place of the division. It was a heck of a Round 1 between these two teams, who will meet two more times in the next three weeks.

Some thoughts

  • Rodrigues’ goal was the first shot of the Pittsburgh power play on the night, in 7:13 worth of time. The Hurricanes had four SOG while shorthanded, several of them breakaways on Jarry who had to stand tall just to keep his team in the game. It was an ugly, brutal game for the power play.
  • The 5v5 Corsi chart from Natural Stat Trick helps illustrate the story of this game:
  • The Pens didn’t start well the game well, and bottomed out in the second period. Those goals breathed life into their game (the yellow dots). Minutes 35-to-60 of this game were great for Pittsburgh, save that darn early third period goal.
  • Evgeni Malkin extended his shift and was on the ice for the Rust goal. Couldn’t fault him if he was wondering if the Guentzel-Rust paid can double-shift or something.
  • Carolina chose to play backup Antti Raanta today in an interesting decision in a high-profile game. He was OK, but it certainly felt like that the game-tying goal was a matter of if it would happen before the clock hit 0:00.
  • After blocking a shot that hit his head early, defensemen Brendan Smith did not return, so the Canes had to play the majority of the game with only five defenders. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce earned their checks today, each playing 27-28 minutes on the game. It looked like former Penguin Ian Cole was a healthy scratch for today.
  • Staal (65% on 23 draws) fed the Pens’ their lunch in this day game in the faceoff circle. Sullivan was trying to keep the Crosby line away from them in the coaching battle behind the boards. Crosby, Malkin+Carter for the second line and Brian Boyle all had poor faceoff games, only Rodrigues finished above 50% for the Pens, going up mostly against Aho.
  • Interesting split on ice-time for the Carolina forwards, the top-six players had 14-17 ES minutes in the game, the bottom six had just 8-9:45.

Round 1 goes to Carolina, the Pens get a lesson about the importance of early starts and will surely be focused on straightening out the issues that their power play has been causing them.