Great goaltending can negate a lot of sins and the Penguins got some great goaltending from Casey DeSmith last night in a 3 – 1 win over Carolina. It was DeSmith’s first home win and second overall of the season.
The good news is that our Penguins do have DeSmith and he was able to put them back into the play-off picture, rejecting 34 of 35 shots and putting them in-line for the last Wild Card spot. Granted, both New York teams have a game in hand and could put themselves back into a tie, but for now, the door is opened again. The bad news is that the Penguins needed him; Carolina had more shots on goal 35-33 and more shot attempts 71-55.
I missed most of the first period but by all accounts our Penguins did start out well, forcing Cam Ward to keep Carolina in the game. However, by the time I was able to start watching what was going on, the ice was starting to tilt against the Penguins. DeSmith had to stone Jeff Skinner on 2 point blank shots in the closing seconds of the 1st period, during a 4 on 4 situation. The Canes started cycling in the Penguins zone causing confusion for the Penguins’ Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Riley Sheahan, and Evgeni Malkin. In all the confusion, with Letang chasing the puck, Skinner slipped in front of DeSmith all alone. The Canes got the puck to him and Skinner not only got one shot off, but a rebound chance as well before Sheahan and Dumoulin could get back down to support their goalie.
Carolina finally cracked DeSmith at 7:14 of the 2nd Period. The Canes got the Penguins running around in their own again. Matt Hunwick dumped Lee Stempniak in front of DeSmith drawing a delayed penalty. Before the Penguins had a chance to touch the puck and get the whistle, the Canes got it back up to the left point. Noah Hanifin ripped a shot on goal. The rebound kicked back up to the right point where Trevor van Riemsdyke was waiting. DeSmith got back across the crease to stop that shot. Unfortunately, DeSmith couldn’t control the puck and the rebound trickled back across the crease to the other side, where DeSmith just left. Derek Ryan got hold of the puck and tried shooting the second rebound into the open net Again DeSmith was “Johnny on the spot”, like a yo yo, sliding back across the crease to stop the second rebound shot and 3rd shot of the volley. Unfortunately, with Hunwick now standing around watching Ryan rather than eliminating him, Ryan got a second chance, the 3rd rebound and 4th shot in 3 seconds.
The Canes lead was short lived. Domink Simon took advantage of a great play by Sidney Crosby to turn a bad breakout play by Conor Sheary, trying to force the puck to the covered Crosby. Crosby got the puck up to Simon and shielded the Canes defender enough to give Simon time to get up speed. Once inside the Canes zone, Simon ripped a shot over Cam Ward evening the score up.
Next it was another kid’s turn; Jean-Sebastien Dea got on the board with his first NHL goal. Tom Kuhnhackl started the play cleaning up his own zone. Kuhnhackl got to a loose puck and swept the puck up the left wing boards out of the zone. Thankfully, Bryan Rust was back in the line-up and he was able to out race the Canes “D” to the loose puck. Racing down the left wing he drew the defense to him and then slipped a back hand pass across to Dea streaking down the slot. Dea deposited the puck over up over Ward’s glove hand.
Jake Gunetzel closed out the scoring and iced the game, netting his 15th goal of the season. The hard work was done by Riley Sheahan and Phil Kessel digging the puck out from behind the net and getting it to Guentzel who found himself in a soft spot above the crease. Giving Guentzel that much room to work with is a major mistake, he will make you pay.
But as I wrote above, the game really wasn’t all that great, only the final score was, thanks to DeSmith. The rookie goalie had to earn that win facing 71 shot attempts, with 35 of them getting on goal. In the 8 games starting from December 31st, the Penguins were able to reassert themselves as the attacking team, like they were during Mike Sullivan’s first Cup run. They were able to reduce their shot attempts against to 51.25 while taking 59.88 shot attempts themselves, giving them a team CORSI over that span of 53.88%.
However, over the last 3 games, they are trending back the other way. Over the last 3 games, opposing teams are getting 67 shot attempts per game to the Penguins 61.33. The Penguins team CORSI over that span has dropped down to 47.79%. This is a disturbing trend.
The Penguins are back in the play-off picture. The teams that they are challenging them all have games in hand but are trending downward, with losing records over their last 10 games. Let’s hope the Penguins can keep getting strong goaltending until they get their defensive short-comings sorted out.