COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nearly every media member was crowded around Evgeni Malkin when I got to the Penguins' locker room. This isn't something that's unusual on the road ... at least not when Malkin is in the room when you get there.
Everyone is typically available to talk to on the road, and nearly everyone was still in the room after the Blue Jackets' 4-1win over the Penguins. Top stuff off, bottoms still on. Sitting, staring straight into the center of the room while Malkin spoke.
The equipment team yelled out that they needed "socks" from everyone, meaning their hockey socks. One-by-one, players started shedding more gear until they could toss their white road socks into a bin with the road jerseys they'd already stripped.
Jared McCann remained seated and just staring straight ahead. Then down into his bag. Then into his hands.
He was looking into his bag when I approached, already knowing why he seemed visually more frustrated than the frustration-overboiled room ... so I asked.
"Jared," I said to get his attention. "That shift with Sid. Was the pass behind you a bit, or ..."
That's where he cut me off. McCann was so upset about the quality of the ice and the impact it had on this play that I couldn't repeat what was said here. He told me again around the comfort of additional expletives.
"No, the pass was perfect. Unreal pass," he went on.
McCann then continued to tell me relentlessly about how the ice just couldn't hold up to the play. It was chippy, it was choppy, it was ... lots of things. He caught the pass, and went to drag for the shot and it just jumped. Nothing he could do, and the body language showed.
Not to make excuses -- the ice didn't lose the Penguins the game -- but the state hockey finals were played Saturday morning and afternoon before the game. It's not like there's turf to be torn the way it is during WPIAL football playoffs in Pittsburgh, but I'm sure it had an effect on the day's ice.
It looks to me, watching that GIF above on endless repeat, that McCann might have stone-handed the pass a bit. Who could blame him, right? Coming in that well with that much net to look at?
I trust him, though. While it looks like the puck jumps slightly as it hits his stick, it looks even more like maybe the momentum of the pass coupled with the ... wonderful ... ice caused it to jump in a situation where McCann would otherwise feel in control.
This was a vent session and an understandable one. The guy has been nothing but better than anyone thought he would be when he was acquired from Florida. It was a 2-1 game at this point in the second period, and with Sergei Bobrovsky in an unrecoverable position, it was about to be a new hockey game.
So, yeah, he was frustrated.
"Yeah, that's what it looked like. I was right behind you on that and I could tell it wouldn't sit right," I replied during this venting rant.
Of course, I couldn't tell in that moment. I added to the live file as soon as I could about the sequence and, as often done in the expedited nature of sharing photos during hockey games, I didn't give it enough credit.
"I just couldn't keep the puck on the ice."
This pass was unreal. It was perfect.
"Pass cleared two sticks too, right," I asked for clarification on just how good it was.
[caption id="attachment_789147" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
And, yeah, it did. Take another look. I didn't frame it perfectly, but ... to borrow from Dejan ... "wow." McCann praised it some more, shook his head some more, threw more gear into his bag and stood up. I thanked him and moved on.
This really struck me in that moment. This is a guy who is always ready with a team first answer. He's the guy who laughed in the locker room his first night in Pittsburgh after the trade and couldn't believe how many cameras were there.
I wrote about him here in this same building the last time these teams played in the state of Ohio. A pretty unforgettableeffort on his second goal that day. Dejan Kovacevic wrote about how Jim Rutherford committed literal robbery by acquiring McCann and Nick Bjugstad.
This was the first I've seen of the expletively-passionate-when-angry Jared McCann ... and I liked it. This guy has that fire that it takes. Sometimes you just have to get angry, and sometimes you get to play less than 24 hours after getting really angry.