You may have noticed Jeff Carter last Thursday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins 6-foot-3 center has been found money since being acquired at the NHL trade deadline from the LA Kings for a pair of mid-round picks. Thursday night, Carter scored four goals for the first time in his career and did it with winger Jared McCann riding shotgun.
Carter scored the only goal of the game on Saturday as the Penguins (eventually) won the East Division.
When Evgeni Malkin returned to the Penguins lineup last week, Carter dropped to the third line, but kept custody of McCann as head coach Mike Sullivan reconstituted Malkin’s line with Jason Zucker at LW and Kasperi Kapanen at RW.
Is Jeff Carter the best Penguins trade deadline veteran-acquisition since…Bill Guerin in 2009? McCann and Carter form the best third line since…2016?
I’ll leave those, hopefully, obvious inferences for you to ponder.
While Zucker and Malkin are still looking for that chemistry, Sullivan believes he found it between Carter and McCann.
“I think (Carter) has great chemistry with Jared McCann. I think he’s real good for Jared McCann,” Sullivan said. “He talks to them a lot in between shifts. Those guys have played really well together. We feel so. But it’s really it’s more about just his personality, his demeanor, and how he carries himself around his teammates. I think is just he’s been really helpful to our whole group.”
Carter’s acquisition was a little surprising. The long-time LA Kings forward was shuffled from center to RW this season. His numbers were down, and at 35-years-old, Carter makes $5.2 million for one more season.
However, new Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall has worked with Carter before. The pair won one Stanley Cup together when Hextall was the AGM for the LA Kings in 2012. Hextall moved on to Philadelphia before the Kings won their second cup in 2014, but Cup winners walk together forever.
And Hextall was pretty comfortable with the package he got.
“We knew we could still shoot the puck and could score goals. And he brings a 200-foot game,” Sullivan said. “We felt strongly that he was going to make us a better team. Hexy has a lot of familiarity with this game, just with his experience working together with him. We couldn’t be happier with how well he’s fit into the group here, both on and off the ice.”
And part of that process has been bringing out some of the best hockey that McCann has played with the Penguins, too. While McCann scored his 14th goal of the season on Thursday, he’s been shooting more, and more often, from good scoring areas.
He downplayed that it takes any great chemistry to play with Carter–which is probably why they have it.
“He’s a very skilled player, obviously. He’s fast, he plays the right way. So he’s easy for me to play with,” McCann said. “I feel like it doesn’t take too much chemistry when you have a guy that skilled down the middle of the ice. So it’s been going really well for us here. We’re going to look and try to carry that in the playoffs.”
Dare I say, Carter and McCann are more complete than Nick Phil Bonino and Kessel? Add Brandon Tanev to the RW and it looks like Carl Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel, doesn’t it?
None other than Malkin has proclaimed McCann to have the best shot on the team, and with Carter, McCann is letting it fly.
Perhaps Carter is good for McCann, but it is a two-way street. When Carter doesn’t have McCann, his numbers take a nosedive. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Carter without McCann has no goals and a paltry 43% Corsi.
Except Jeff Carter has played only 20 minutes without his new buddy.
Together, McCann and Carter have the same proportional number of scoring chances (56%) and shots (54%) as McCann alone, but McCann has finished far more chances with Carter. In just 150 minutes together, the line has 14 goals and has scored 78% of the goals on the ice.
That’s a huge number, 78%.
“(Carter) gives our team a little bit of a little bit more swagger. He’s an accomplished player. You know, he’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion,” Sullivan said. “That doesn’t go unnoticed when a player like that walks into a locker room. His personality, his demeanor, he has a quiet confidence, and he’s built good relationships with the players here.”
It doesn’t hurt that right-wing Frederick Gaudreau feeding the pair like Grandma’s Sunday afternoon dinner. Gaudreau had three assists on Thursday night as his career year continued, too.
When Brandon Tanev returns to the lineup, those are for pretty deep lines, eh? The Pittsburgh Penguins just may have struck gold. Or, more importantly, silver.