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Penguins 3rd Line Craters; A Dejected Jeff Carter Answers



Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Carter

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a problem, or several depending on how deep you want to go. They haven’t been able to beat the top Metro Division teams. They have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory far too often this season, and their third line, which is often tasked with defensive responsibilities, is getting crushed by opponents.

Penguins center and former fan favorite Jeff Carter is the poster boy for the struggles, and his former Bud Light chugging, Welches’ gummy candy munching persona has transformed into a villain responsible for a disproportionate amount of the Penguins’ struggles.

Fandom has turned ugly. In fairness, the third-line performances aren’t helping. Instead, they’re adding more fuel to the fire. Carter knows it, too. 

“We haven’t played great. If we’re not scoring, we need to bring some energy, sustained o-zone, you know, some grind shifts and whatnot,” Carter said. “It’s been real hit and miss for us. Obviously, the offense isn’t there for us right now, so we’ve got to find a way to contribute.”

The Penguins started well against the New Jersey Devils Saturday. They had the territorial advantage and momentum after the first 20 minutes. However, they were quickly dispatched in the second period, and the energy level plummeted deep into the third period.

The Devils’ first goal came just 1:20 after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead. Allowing a goal immediately after scoring has been a dogging problem for this team and has not abated, no matter how much attention has been paid. It happened Friday vs. the Islanders when the Carter line was on the ice shortly after the Penguins took a 4-2 lead (in a 5-4 loss), and it happened again Saturday.

The allowed goal was a hodgepodge of mistakes. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel collided with the referee in the corner, and Carter spun out, trying to defend the net.

Carter’s unforced stumble allowed two Devils to poke the puck past goalie Dustin Tokarski and served as yet another black mark on the Penguins’ third line.

What can be done?

“For the most part, everybody’s been around for the last couple of years, so I wish I had an answer for you there. I mean, we tried all these combinations and whatnot. I don’t know,” Carter said with a perplexed head shake and grimace.

But Carter likely knows it is a bigger issue than just the last couple of months. At 38-years-old, he’s signed for one more season, though time is catching him quickly.

Signed to a 35+ contract with a no-movement clause and with no trade value, there are no answers beyond finding a way — any way — to be productive.

Devasting Penguins’ Stats

The statistics from Saturday were ugly. If this were a movie, it would come with a parental warning or a full-fledged adult rating. 

Through 40 minutes, the Penguins’ third line, centered by Carter with Kasperi Kapanen and Drew O’Connor, had zero shots, just one attempt, and zero scoring chances but yielded a pile of goodness to the Devils. The Devils had nine shots against the Carter line through two periods and 11 total. They also had six high-danger chances in the first two periods.

The third-line performance, and Carter’s in particular, stood in contrast to the rest of the Penguins lineup, which outplayed and outchanced the Devils.

A terse coach Mike Sullivan was in no mood after the loss to answer the question again.

This was Sullivan before the game:

“That’s what we’re looking for with that whole line is momentum, conscientious defensive play, and we think if they can help us with the momentum side of it, they’re going to get looks. When you look at the identity of our bottom six, we can manufacture some offense just by putting pucks on the net and getting into the paint,” the coach said. “If we can do that more frequently, I think these guys will get opportunities around the net where they can potentially chip in offensively. That’s something that’s been sporadic and that we need. We’d like to see more consistently.”

And this was Sullivan AFTER the game:

“You guys ask me that question every day. They have moments where they’ve been good. They have some moments where they haven’t been,” he said with obvious irritation and ended his answer there.

No, the question must be asked though the answers aren’t going to change.

Penguins Need Help

The Penguins are winless this season against the top teams, the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, in the Metro Division. No combination of players on the third line has worked. Brock McGinn is scoreless in 22 games and was flipped to the fourth line Saturday after weeks on the third trio.

Kasperi Kapanen is the “high scorer” on the line, with four points in his last 14 games.

Jeff Carter scored a goal against Anaheim eight days ago. It was his first even-strength, 5v5 tally since Oct. 20. However, his season stats are as dismal as the singular effort on Saturday might suggest.

Carter has 87 shots in 52 games, which is on pace to easily be the worst of his 18-year career. His 20 points are also on pace to be his worst output in a full season.

Watching the deepest struggles of a player with 426 career goals, two Stanley Cups, and who is generally well-regarded in the locker room is not easy.

But here we are.

Contributions of energy or offense from the third line would have gone a long way toward a better result both on Friday and Saturday. Instead, the line was scored upon three times (twice on Friday and once Saturday).

Unfortunately, it seems to be time for some unpleasant answers for the Penguins’ third-line center.

The crater is just getting deeper.