Observations from the Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss to the Hurricanes:
First, our apologies for the lateness of this post. We weren't feeling well last night.
This was a game the Penguins had to have. They needed both points. As they chase a playoff spot and try to dig out of the hole they were stuck in for most of the first half of the season, they can't give away points, especially to teams on their heels in the playoff chase.
The Penguins deserve credit for coming back from a two-goal deficit and even getting the game to overtime, but at the same time, they squandered several opportunities to take early leads or to win this in regulation.
After a scoreless first period, the Hurricanes struck first at 3:52 of the second period. Hurricanes center Elias Lindholm chipped a puck into the Penguins' end boards and chased it down. He was able to win a battle against defensemen Kris Letang, Olli Maatta as well as left winger David Perron and tapped the puck to right winger Kris Versteeg to the left of the cage. Versteeg fed it immediately to center Eric Staal to the right of the crease and Staal swept in an easy goal by the left skate of helpless goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Hurricanes got lucky and took a 2-0 lead at the 9:44 mark. Versteeg ripped a wrister off the left half wall. It hit the stick of center Sidney Crosby in front and deflected off the glass behind the net. The puck then ricocheted towards the crease. Fleury was crouched on his knees in the crease hugging the left post looking for any sign of the puck and had it trickle off his back and into the cage. Versteeg was credited with the goal.
The Penguins needed 45 seconds to respond. Following a television timeout, Crosby won a faceoff in the Hurricanes' right circle against Staal. He got the puck back to Maatta on the right half wall. Maatta then fed a pass to Letang at right point and Letang chopped a quick one-timer. The puck sailed by a screen of left winger Chris Kunitz as well as Versteeg and beat Ward's glove hand on the near side.
The game was tied, 2-2, at 6:01 of the third period. Hurricanes defenseman John-Michael Liles made a lazy pass from his right circle to the blue line and had it intercepted by right winger Patric Hornqvist who chopped it down to the Hurricanes' end boards. Crosby chased the puck down, set up shop behind the Carolina net and fed a pass to the slot. Kunitz darted in and jabbed a one-timer by Ward's blocker.
In overtime, after center Evgeni Malkin took a poor hooking penalty against center Jordan Staal in the Hurricanes' zone, Carolina won the game on the power play. From above the left circle, Hurricanes defneseman Justin Faulk slid a pass low to the left of the cage for Lindholm. Lindholm waited for Maatta to slide down on a block attempt and fed a pass to center Jeff Skinner positioned to the right of the cage and Skinner slammed in an easy forehand shot by Fleury's left skate.
-With roughly six minutes left in the second period, the Penguins switched up their first and second lines and it semed to spark them a bit. Hornqvist was moved from second line left wing to first line right wing while Perron went the opposite route.
-Perron's struggles continue. This time, it wasn't just on offense. He failed to defend Lindholm on the play which led to Carolina's first goal.
-We liked Kunitz's game. He had a strong screen on Letang's goal and just knew where to be for Crosby's pass on his own goal.
-The Penguins' power play really let them down. They had two power-plays - including a brief five-on-three situation - in the first period and failed to cash them in.
-Early in the first period, right winger Phil Kessel blew Ward's helmet off his head with a wrister:
-Fleury was fine. The first and third goals he allowed were the product of wide open passes while the second was a fluke.
-Center Nick Bonino did not play the final 9:35 of regulation or overtime. There was no word as to his status.
-Once again, the Penguins made Ward look like it was 2006. He saw plenty of shots but a lot of them were very preventable. His chest protector may need a day off.
-Sullivan spoke with reporters in Raleigh about the start of the game:
"Obviously we would have liked to come out with more energy and grab a hold of momentum right off the bat. I don't think we did that to the extent that we could have but I don't think it was a case where we got totally outplayed."
-Sullivan talked about moving Hornqvist to the first line:
"I liked it. I thought Sid, he was locked in. He was going. I decided to make that switch halfway through the game. I like it. They were pretty good together."
-Fleury talked about Versteeg's fluky goal:
"Weird bounce, you know. They did didn't get too many shots and that's a frustrating one. That's one of their goals. I lost sight of it. I turned back into my net and it got my shoulder."
-Kunitz was asked if the team is looking at the standings:
"I think we're all looking at it right now. It's a tough league to jump people in front of you. Everyone is clustered. It doesn't matter where you are in front of the standings, it's usually four or five points and separates maybe [10th place] from [seventh or six place] or whatever it is. But we're playing these teams every single night. If we don't win them, we're definitely not going to leapfrog anybody. We're definitely not going find our way into the playoffs."
-Eric Staal echoed Kunitz's thoughts:
"We've been staring at the standings all year. So yeah, it helps. Definitely a good thing. We scraped and clawed to get to .500. Now you got to climb. You've got to beat teams in front of you. Obviously, tough with them getting a point but nonetheless, it's two points. We've got to continue to build and get points whereever we can."
-Faulk was asked about his team reaching .500:
"I don't like that number. It's talked about too much for my liking, .500. Yeah, its nice to get going. Nice to be above it but we want to be better than that."
-The Penguins had a 25-21 lead in shots on net.
-Eric Staal led the game with five shots.
-Kunitz led the Penguins with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 28:47 of ice time.
-Defenseman Jaccob Slavin led the Hurricanes with 25:59 of ice time.
-The Penguins had a 25-24 edge in faceoffs (51 percent).
-Jordan Staal was 11 for 20 (55 percent).
-Fire Ray Shero.
-Center Matt Cullen was 5 for 9 (56 percent).
-Hornqvist led the game with four blocked shots.
-Slavin led the Hurricanes with three blocked shots.
-The Penguins had killed 27 consecutive opposing power-play chances until Skinner's goal. The last team to score a power-play goal against the Penguins was - you guessed it - the Hurricanes. They had two power-play scores in a 2-1 road win Dec. 19.
-Eric Staal now has 46 career points in 44 career games against the Penguins.
(Photo: Gerry Broome/Associated Press)