Penguins Leave Players, Playoff Power in Pittsburgh


A strong contingent of Pittsburgh Penguins fans were frustrated Thursday night as their team visited the Carolina Hurricanes and left their playoff-caliber ways at home. At third place in the Metropolitan Division with 91 points, the Penguins are in a good position for the upcoming NHL playoffs. Their performance in Raleigh, however, left much to be desired.

The Penguins dressed 19 with Christian Ehrhoff, Evgeni Malkin, and Patric Hornqvist left behind in Pittsburgh still out with injuries. As noted by Alan Saunders in the Pittsburgh Sporting News, “The Penguins will dress one player short because they do not have enough cap space to recall a forward from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.”

Being down three key players, even against a team having a disappointing season, makes winning difficult. It was just that as the Hurricanes basically pounded the Penguins 5-2.

Brandon Sutter (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
Brandon Sutter (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

Here we go again

Carolina started in tentative fashion, causing me to remark to my colleague in the press box, “They look sloppy.” Seconds later, Brandon Sutter scored for the Penguins at 3:54, and I thought the ‘Canes were in for another loss at the hands of a playoff-bound team.

1-0 Penguins with Sidney Crosby. Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury all healthy and on the ice. It felt like it was going to be a long night. Then this happened a minute or so later  to tie the game 1-1.

The “All-Staal” goal was the beginning of what would be a long night for Marc-Andre Fleury. At one point I wondered if Coach Mike Johnston might yank him. It was that kind of night, with Fleury ending up with 23 saves on 28 shots against.

At the other end

Not including the early Brandon Sutter blemish, Cam Ward was lights-out.

That save against David Perron in the first period was just one of many Ward made to keep the Hurricanes close in the beginning, and keep the Penguins at bay as the night progressed.

After the game, Carolina Coach Bill Peters spoke of Cam Ward having been under the weather, and his return of against Pittsburgh.

“I think we did the right thing by making sure he was 100 percent healthy and had his strength back before we played him,” Peters said. “He responded the way we thought he would with a real good effort.”

He responded with a dynamic performance, saving 27 of the 29 shots he faced. This save against Kris Letang in the second period is representative of the Ward’s tremendous play:

Ward said he was glad to be back in the net.

“I was seeing it really well,” Ward said. “Some nights you’re just feeling it, and it was one of those nights.”

It certainly was, and David Perron would have to agree with Hurricanes television broadcaster John Forslund that this was just larceny:

Of course the Penguins were without some serious star power. Malkin being out is huge. Missing Hornqvist and Ehrhoff could be devastating to the Penguins’ playoff success. The fans are getting restless, too.

The Hurricanes did not “suck so bad” against the Penguins. They played hard and kept working and were rewarded with a big win. Even Alexander Semin scored a goal.

At least ‘Canes fans are happy…for the moment anyway.

Penguins fans…not so much.

The Penguins do face the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night at home. They should have at least one of the missing three back in the lineup – hopefully. That should help them get moving back in the right direction.

The ‘Canes play at home against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night, and Sunday against the Boston Bruins.