Playoff disappointments have dogged the Pittsburgh Penguins three years running, and each disappointment seemingly weighed a little more. Penguins forward Jared McCann has been around for the last two thundering duds in which the team has won a grand total of one game combined.
Over those past two years, the Penguins have played a total of seven playoff games, but McCann has played just six. They were the first six games of his six-year NHL career. His play earned a healthy scratch during the Qualifying Round series last August, and McCann has not yet scored his first playoff goal.
That’s a big deal for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. On Saturday, it seems McCann indirectly admitted nerves have been a problem in his playoff preparation. He was asked about the difference in playoff experience between him and his center Jeff Carter.
“I think it’s just probably just a bit more nerves. You know, I feel like once you get that experience and kind of get that mindset of what you’ve got to do every night, it settles you down,” McCann said. “I’ve talked to Jeff about it, and I’m going to continue to talk to him about it, just kind of pick his brain about what he does and what I can kind of take from him.”
McCann has just two assists in his six career postseason games. That healthy scratch last August now looms just a little larger. This season, the Pittsburgh Penguins forward took more steps to become a scoring winger, especially on Carter’s wing.
McCann far surpassed his career-best for points per game. Last year, he posted 35 points (14-21-35) in 66 games (.53 ppg). This season, he popped for 32 points in only 43 games (.74 points per game).
His chemistry with Carter helped the Penguins’ trade deadline acquisition fill the net with nine goals in just 13 games.
“So we feel ready to go … Obviously, a 12 o’clock game is a little bit different, especially in the playoffs,” McCann said. “There’s going to be a lot of nerves, especially for the younger guys. But we’ve got to be ready. We feel like that we’ve done enough video and all that stuff to to to see what their tendencies are. And we feel prepared.”
McCann, it seems, will have to deal with those nerves as much as anyone. He’s one of the few members of the Penguins’ top nine without a Stanley Cup ring. Carter has a pair with the LA Kings, while Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel have jewelry with the Penguins logo.
The Penguins could be without center Evgeni Malkin on Sunday. Malkin skated with Skills Coach Ty Hennes on Saturday morning and was only a partial participant in the Penguins practice at PPG Paints Arena. Malkin did not take part in line rushes, nor did he take his usual spot on the power play.
Instead, McCann took that space.
Without Malkin, McCann filled the Penguins PP1 spot well. This season’s seven power-play goals are more than he’s scored in his previous five seasons, combined (6).
The Penguins power play, which bubbled in the middle of the league, also surged to the top-10.
“I’ve been really impressed with his skill set, his mindset going into games, and he’s got a lot of speed,” Carter said of McCann. “He’s really hard on pucks. He competes really hard. He’s got a high compete level. And when he has a chance to put it in the net, he’s a shooter.”
McCann is a shooter. When he and Carter are on the ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins have 78% of the goals scored.
He won’t have much time on Sunday to deal with those nerves. Noon games don’t allow much time to waste, according to Jeff Carter.
“You know, you get up, and you go play. There’s no messing around.”
Maybe that will help the young players and their nerves for Game 1.