In 20 games since being acquired from the Florida Panthers in a Feb. 1 trade, Jared McCann has made a significant impact with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He’s scored nine goals. He’s given the team’s top-line duo of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel a formidable running mate. He’s been an effective penalty killer, even scoring twice shorthanded.
His biggest play to date, however, may have come in the second period of a 5-3 Penguins win over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
The Penguins trailed 2-0 to a Washington team that had won its previous seven games. All their closest rivals in the Eastern Conference playoff chase were winning. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights where it was perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Penguins would qualify for the postseason at all.
Instead, as Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov carried the puck in his own zone a little too casually while looking for an outlet pass, McCann crept up from behind and stole it off his stick.
That started a two-on-one that Jake Guentzel finished at the left post. The PPG Paints Arena crowd roared. The momentum had shifted.
“I feel like we talked about it after the first period, getting hard on the forecheck and pressuring their D,” McCann said. “I had to get my feet moving after the first period there. It was a good play and Jake made a good play backdoor there.”
Forty-seven seconds later, Sidney Crosby tracked down a Justin Schultz lob and tied the score. Sixty-one seconds after that, Crosby scored on a power-play one-timer from the right circle. The Penguins never trailed again.
“It was a huge goal,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It was a turning point in the game, I think, the way we grabbed a hold of the momentum right after it. Our bench got a foot taller after we scored that goal and you could see it in our play with the energy that we came with with the subsequent shifts after that goal. It was a huge point in that game.”
The Penguins have been known to score goals in bunches, especially at home, when they’re playing at their best. It was the first such frenzy McCann was in the middle of.
He liked it.
“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “Obviously we didn’t have a great start to the game, but our fans stayed with us.”
One of the reasons the Penguins ended their season with a second-round playoff loss to the Capitals last year was a lack of scoring by forwards not named Guentzel or Crosby.
McCann’s recent performance gives them hope that the same scene won’t play out this spring.
“I feel like we’re just clicking,’ McCann said. “Sometimes you just have guys that you just click with, and I feel like we have that chemistry. We’re continuing to get better each and every game. Obviously we didn’t have the best start, but we battled back. It was a good way to finish.”