Raise your hand if you imagined a scenario coming into this year where the Pittsburgh Penguins would be battling the Carolina Hurricanes for a playoff spot.
Not only that, but a scenario where the Penguins would lose the first two games of the season to the Hurricanes and be outscored 6-1 in the process.
Such was the case as Carolina paid a visit to PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night. The Hurricanes came into town trailing the Penguins in the standings by three points. From top to bottom, first to last, the Metro Division is separated by 11 points so every game is crucial — especially a division game that is afour-pointt swing.
So with rookies Casey DeSmith, Jean-Sébastien Dea and Dominik Simon stepping to the forefront in a 3-1 Penguins victory, it was a glimpse of hope that the team’s big stars will get solid contributions from the new kids up and down the line up to wade through the muddied waters of the Metro.
Dea and Simon scored in the second period at a crucial time. Carolina had just taken a 1-0 lead at 7:14 of the period when Derek Ryan scored his tenth goal of the year during a delayed penalty situation.
So all of the momentum that the Hurricanes started to build at the end of the first, when DeSmith was excellent in fending off numerous chances (including one on Viktor Rask) paid off and you had an uneasy sense of ‘Man, not again to THESE guys’.
Less than a minute after Ryan’s goal, Simon would get his second of the year when he sniped Cam Ward over the glove hand and on the short side. Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary made a couple of small chip plays in the defensive zone to spring Simon, who gained speed through the neutral zone and released his shot in the far face off circle.
Carolina, much like Pittsburgh on their opening goal, was facing a delayed penalty call when the puck when in the net.
Ward came into the game having allowed just one goal in nearly 50 shots (49 to be exact) against Pittsburgh so far this season.
1:16 later, it would be Dea who would give the Penguins the lead with his first goal in the NHL.
Tom Kuhnhackl would one-hand-chip a puck out of the defensive zone and up to Bryan Rust. Rust (making his return from missing the last 11 games due to injury) would make a beautiful, back-handed saucer pass through a defenseman and hit Dea on the door step where the rookie would easily finish it behind Ward.
All the feels for @jsdea10's first NHL goal! 🚨
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 24, 2018
So with the rookies leading the charge, the third period became a potential key point in Pittsburgh’s recent push towards the playoffs and a season rebound. Letting Carolina back into it and allow them to gain confidence heading into this weekend’s All Star break was not an ideal scenario. The Hurricanes came into the contest having lost seven of its last 10 games and the Penguins were looking to send their home win streak to four in a row.
One of the staples of last year’s team was their play at home; dominant, nearly unbeatable at PPG Paints Area. This year, they have shown dents in that armor.
Jake Guentzel finished off a pretty feed from Phil Kessel from behind the goal line to the far post. Also notable was the board battle by Riley Sheahan as he continues to fill into a bottom six role in a very effective fashion. Guentzel’s 15th on the year was the insurance marker that was needed at just the right time.
DeSimth’s play is also the right play at the right time. In three games, the rookie has allowed four goals in three games and has displayed a quickness that has allowed him to fight through the ranks of the minor leagues, including the ECHL to earn the trust of coach Mike Sullivan and ride the hot hand, so to speak.
Tristan Jarry continued to serve in the back up role also has played well with Matt Murray still attending to the passing of his father.
Sullivan rightfully stated that the club would give Murray all the time and support needed in his situation.
DeSmith finished the night with 34 saves as the Hurricanes out shot the Penguins 35-33 for the game, coming up big late in the first and early in the third when the Hurricanes pressed their hardest.
As noted on Monday night, roster wise, the Penguins sent Daniel Sprong back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to allow him to continue to rack up playing time, in the wake of Rusty coming off of the injured reserve list. Ryan Reaves was a healthy scratch for the line up decision process of Rust’s return.
Rust also lead the club with three blocked shots for the game.
Sidney Crosby still sits on goal 399 for his career.
Ian Cole still sits in the press box in favor of Matt Hunwick.
No idea there, at all.
Both teams finished with 0-fers on the power play, with Pittsburgh having just one chance, Carolina having two.
The Penguins finish up the pre-All-Star-Break portion of their schedule when they play host to Matt Cullen and the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Stay tuned for our coverage of that game and a look over All-Star Weekend at potential Penguins targets before the Feb. 26 deadline.
Thanks for reading!