In his brief time as Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall has only made one significant change to the roster.
That change: he added Jeff Carter.
It might be one of the best additions any team made at the trade deadline, and it is a big reason why they were able to win the regular season East Division crown and a huge reason why they now have a 2-1 lead in their First Round series with the New York Islanders.
Carter scored two more goals for the Penguins on Thursday night in a wild 5-4 win that saw penalties, back-and-forth action in the third period, and a late game-winning goal from the Penguins’ fourth line. Carter now has three goals and an assist in the first three games of the series, and when combined with his regular season performance has 12 goals and 15 total points in his first 17 games with the team.
It has completely changed the outlook of the Penguins’ roster and season. With him centering the third line it gives them the sort of depth they had during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons when they were capable of rolling four lines that could beat you on any given night.
On Thursday, it was not just the fact that Carter scored two goals that was significant. It was also when he scored them.
His first goal came late in the second period to regain the lead for the Penguins just minutes after the Islanders had tied the game. It was a rocket of a snap shot off the rush that was perfectly placed on the far post to beat Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov.
His second goal came on the power play not long after the Islanders had erased a 3-1 deficit early in the third period. At both points it would have been easy for the Islanders to seize momentum and flip the game, and potentially the series, in their favor. Did not happen. At least not on this night.
Carter has been a perfect fit in every way for the Penguins, not only for the way he has produced, but for the role he has filled and the way he has played. He gave Hextall and Brian Burke the big body and physical presence they wanted while still adding a player that can play at a high level. He has also filled the third-line center void and given them a dynamic third scoring line alongside Jared McCann and Frederick Gaudreau. But along with all of that he has also brought a shot-first mentality to a team that too often tries to make the extra pass.
His line was not the only depth line that made an impact for the Penguins on Thursday.
The fourth line of Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, and Zach Aston-Reese also scored two goals on Thursday, including Tanev’s game-winner with less than six minutes to play in the third period. That goal was also an immediate response to a game-tying goal from the Islanders. That line excelled in Game 2 with its defensive play, an area where it is one of the league’s best. On Thursday, it chipped in offensively.
It is that depth that gives the Penguins such a huge advantage in any matchup. During the regular season they outscored teams by 18 goals during 5-on-5 play when neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin were on the ice. That is huge. So far in the playoffs they are only an even (six for, six against) but the six goals for is still a significant number.
Among the other craziness in this game: The two teams combined for 30 penalty minutes in the third period alone, including one skirmish that resulted in all 10 skaters on the ice being sent to the penalty box.
The Penguins also were able to hold onto their lead at the end thanks to Sidney Crosby being able to get his stick on a Brock Nelson shot that appeared to be heading for a potential game-tying goal.
PENGUINS VS. ISLANDERS (Penguins lead series 2-1) – series livestream link
Game 1: Islanders 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Game 2: Penguins 2, Islanders 1
Thursday, May 20: Penguins 5, Islanders 4
Saturday, May 22: Penguins at Islanders, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Monday, May 24: Islanders at Penguins TBD
*Wednesday, May 26: Penguins at Islanders TBD
*Friday, May 28: Islanders at Penguins TBD