First, it is important to note that the buzz outside and inside PNC Arena for the 10-year Stanley Cup championship anniversary was a blast. It was great to a number of Canes heroes back in the building even if it was in jackets and ties, and the regular bits of Canes nostalgia on the video screen made commercial breaks much more than a chance to check your phone. I can hardly wait for round 2 tomorrow!
As for the game, it did not deliver in terms of needed results. The Canes came into the game 4 points behind the opposing Penguins and looking at a chance to net 2 points in the standings just by winning. On some nights, earning an overtime loss point against a pretty good hockey team might be a decent consolation prize, but it did not feel that way leaving PNC Arena tonight. The Canes left the night minus another game to play and minus another point in the standings.
As for the quality of play, I would rate the game as good overall for the Canes. Minus Justin Faulk who was dinged up in practice yesterday and a game time decision today but plus Brett Pesce who returned after a couple weeks off due to a lower body injury, the Canes defense held up well. Jordan Staal lined up across from Sidney Crosby all night and held him to exactly nothing. The blue line minus its leader played a pretty sound game and gave goalie Cam Ward a reasonable challenge in terms of quantity and quality of chances. The problem was that while doing a decent job of holding down Pittsburgh offensively, the Canes did not muster much offensively themselves. The first 2 periods of the game were a hard-fought, defensive snoozer that saw only a modest number of grade B scoring chances. Things did pick up in the third period when the Canes pushed to draw even and the Pens counterattacked some. For the longest time, it looked like a lone Phil Kessel shortside goal that Ward allowed would decide the game. But with about 5 minutes remaining, Andrej Nestrasil used a Pens defenseman as a screen and rifled a shot into the top corner to tie the game at 1. Overtime was a thriller with the Pens dominating the first 2 minutes and the last 3 minutes featuring some wild back and forth hockey. Ward made a couple phenomenal saves to get a shootout, but ultimate lost there when Kris Letang beat him in the third slot after the Canes went 0 for 3.
The deciding factor in the game was the Canes secondary lines to pot a couple goals. With Evgeni Malkin out, Jordan Staal’s line playing to a 1-0 advantage versus Sidney Crosby’s line should have been a key starting point to a 3-1 win.
A few player and other notes:
1) Jordan Staal
On a night when there was not much for offense, his defensive play can stake as good a claim as any to making him the best skater on the ice tonight. He was also a poster shot for all that is wrong with plus/minus when looked at for a single game without understanding context. He received a minus 1 when Cam Ward let in a soft short side goal from a bad angle. He then failed to earn a plus when his line mates scored after he was off the ice for a partial change. Nevertheless, his assignment was very clearly to play against Sidney Crosby’s line all night and shut them down. Crosby and company had nothing and Jordan Staal’s line mates Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom combined to score a goal against Crosby’s line after a partial change.
2) The defense
I was thoroughly impressed by the defense. Brett Pesce hopped back in without missing a beat. Ron Hainsey and Jaccob Slavin did about what one would have hoped for if Justin Faulk was in that slot. Noah Hanifin did the heavy lifting moving the puck for his third pairing. And John-Michael Liles played his usual quiet but solid game.
My favorite single play from the defense was Noah Hanifin’s wild dash around the net to attempt a wrap-around goal. Thought it did not result in a goal, I keep hoping to see a little bit more of the Joni Pitkanen that was in Hanifin’s game when playing against his own age group in prospect camp.
Credit should be given across the board, but the highlight has to be Jaccob Slavin playing in a first pairing role in a huge game against a red hot NHL superstar and not at all looking like he was in over his head. He was impressive.
3) Not enough offense
Jeff Skinner had his moments and spent a good amount of time in scoring areas. He seemed to be a break away from continuing his scoring streak. I also thought that Elias Lindholm played an assertive game with the puck on his stick. And the Versteeg/EStaal combination had some decent shifts. But there just were not enough grade A chances. The power play also mostly struggled in its 3 tries. The game makes consecutive games where 1 goal against in regulation was not good enough to earn a win.
4) Cam Ward
I am torn on how to evaluate him. With any margin for error and little bit of offense, thing would have been pretty fair had he won 2-1. He made a couple phenomenal saves in overtime to give his team the full 5 minutes to pull out a win then. And it is probably not fair to nitpick 1 goal against on 26 shots against. But the 1 goal he did allow was a bad one plain and simple getting beat short side through a hole from an impossible angle if he simply hugs the post and does not offer any holes.
5) Curse the shootout!
It is still a horrible way to decide a good hockey game.
The Canes are right back at it tomorrow with another match up against 1 of the teams that they are chasing in the standings in the New York Islanders. We get another round of Stanley Cup anniversary festivities on the ice tomorrow, so pick up a ticket if you do not have 1 already.