PITTSBURGH — The Carolina Hurricanes are a shoot first team. The lead the league in shots and have driven the Pittsburgh Penguins crazy this season. Sunday the stakes were at the highest, and the Penguins handled Carolina. It was the men showing the boys how it is done, just as once upon a time, the men (Ottawa) showed the Penguins kids how it is done. The Penguins physically controlled Carolina and suppressed shots until the final few minutes after the game was decided. The Penguins coasted to a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at PPG Paints Arena.
44 hits. 23 blocked shots. The Penguins did what they needed to do. And it was the “old” man Matt Cullen and the “young” man Adam Johnson who generated tallies in the first period. Garrett Wilson scored his second goal of the season after Johnson streaked past Carolina defenders and won a puck battle along the offensive end wall.
“I think when we play with a little more edge, more physicality, I think that our team, in general, is better,” Cullen said. “For our line that’s important that we get on the forecheck and try to create a little havoc down there.”
The Penguins fourth line did that well.
The Penguins breakouts in the first period Sunday perfectly emulated the breakout drills in practice on Saturday. Close puck support with three players and touch passes ahead of defenders who dared to step forward. Indeed the first period was a textbook game for the Penguins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fourth line was the unit to capitalize on the perfectly gritty, simple play.
The Penguins precision backed up Carolina defensemen, who could not pinch or activate as aggressively because the Penguins had a simple plan to deal with the oncoming traffic.
The Penguins also altered their lines slightly. They placed Nick Bjugstad between Dominik Simon and Phil Kessel, and Teddy Blueger between line changes didn’t affect the Dominik Simon-Nick Bjugstad connection or their relentless forecheck assault.
We’ll get to Phil Kessel’s game in the report card.
In the offensive zone, the fourth line went right after the talented Carolina defense. RIght at them, actually.
“They just play with so much energy. Their care factor. Their try factor,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Cully [sic] he’s a big game player.”
In the third period, Simon did the same and neatly teed it up for Patric Hornqvist.