Just after the Penguins' loss Saturday night in Columbus, I published my View from Ice Levelbased on a locker room conversation with Jared McCann. McCann was noticeably upset, as much of the team was, but I had a sense as to a particular moment in the game that was haunting him.
Sidney Crosby saucered a "perfect" pass to the stick of McCann, as he described it, and he was not shy about admonishing the surface upon which that pass arrived. He was angry, and I knew then that McCann would have a fire Sunday beyond getting a chance at one of hockey's hottest teams.
I finished off that piece with this:
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.
Not to be that guy, but ... I would have bet a lot of money in that moment that McCann would score the next night against the Bruins.
McCann jumped back into the role of first line winger opposite Jake Guentzel for Sunday's meeting with the Bruins. Dominik Simon was ... not good in Columbus, Ohio, and McCann ... well, he was good in just about every way, swapping spots with him back in Pittsburgh.
And that fire? It came out just after McCann scored his first of two goals, earning top star honors in the Penguins' 4-2win over the Bruins, ending the team from Boston's 19-game points streak. It showed undeniably in the way he celebrated this first one, seen below -- a short-handed tally -- by pumping up and screaming at the crowd as he skated by Section 110.
My photo from that goal is the first photo you see at the top of this story. McCann went to the crowd to share his excitement for that goal, and they gave it right back. Look at the next photo -- they ate up every bit of the goal and ensuing celly. The next one, same thing.
Now look back at that GIF of McCann's goal. Break it down. He had all the time you could want to execute an NHL breakaway move, but he hardly slowed down to demonstrate his power over Jaroslav Halak.
To me, that's what separates the high skill guys from the rest. The ability to do something like that at full speed. Where other skaters will drift and weave to set a proper speed to deke the pads off the goaltender, the best can do it at full speed.
Now, I'm not comparing the speed at which McCann can play to the speed at which Connor McDavid does. But, he doesn't slow down on that move, despite digging in his right heel to sell the initial backhand deke that freezes Halak.
By the time McCann goes forehand to back again, Halak doesn't have a prayer at a save and it's a short-handed goal.
All that fire, all that anger that built up for McCann in Columbus. All the talk of the ice. You better believe the first thing I asked McCann when I saw him after the game was about the ice in Pittsburgh.
"The ice better for you tonight?"
McCann laughed and ... well, I'll let him tell you about it this time. He was quite a bit more cheerful this time around and it's entirely PG-rated. It's a short video, so I left our quick three-question chat in the whole thing:
I obviously wanted to ask McCann about playing angry because, as mentioned, he was.
"You're going to get bounces. You're not going to get bounces," McCann said during his reply. "I'm just trying to stay level-headed and play hard."
It seemed like he was able to sum up the weekend for himself in those first 11 words. Sunday the bounces came, Saturday they did not.
Speaking of getting bounces, how about that empty-netter? Backhanded from center ice where McCann stood and celebrated like a Steph Curry jump shot he knew would go in -- dusting his blade's tape the way Marc-Andre Fleury was known to occasionally show appreciation to his butt end.
Something stuck out about the way he told me about the way the puck "sat" for him, though, when he replied about the ice. So, I looked back at my photos of the breakaway goal.
The first image I edited from it shows McCann in the neutral zone, chasing a puck on edge toward the Bruins' end:
[caption id="attachment_790267" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
The next images? Well, they all show the puck flat to the ice in a manageable and completely controllable position. My favorite of the bunch is this photo of McCann as he approaches Halak. He trusts the puck, trusts the ice, has his head up and his eyes locked on Halak.
Halak is looking at the puck, McCann digging that skate in and preparing to go to his backhand where he'll lift the puck into the back of the goal. This is the look of a goal scorer:
[caption id="attachment_790270" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
He'll have to carry his play forward, of course. Take the good bounces along with the bad ones. Stay level-headed. Keep learning to play alongside one of hockey's best first line duos.
But, as he has since his arrival, Jared McCann continues to look like the centerpiece of the trade which brought him to Pittsburgh. That's not to discredit Nick Bjugstad, who netted another for himself against the Bruins, as well. McCann's just been that much of a fit.
HELL HATH NO FURY
This piece is about McCann, but I wouldn't have been happy with myself if I'd ignored the moment Evgeni Malkin scared every person in the front row of Section 105 ... myself included.
Malkin did that thing that he can do. He got on the puck, saw Brandon Carlo attempting to defend him, and he shed him quicker than a winter coat in the Sahara sun.
In that moment, I thought he'd be scoring, for sure. The entire crowd reacted in the way that it does when a career highlight is on the horizon. Malkin didn't score, however, and a release from the crowd followed behind.
Malkin turned the corner, lifted his stick and swung it at the glass as if it had just punched the back of his helmet, grimacing as he followed through with his executioner's blade.
If you watch it enough times, you can see the photo hole I shoot from to Malkin's left when he hits the glass. The stick connected with the glass just over the face of the fan sitting two seats to my left, and he had a good laugh about being "assaulted" by Malkin for the rest of the game.
In the second half of the clip, you can see some of Pierre McGuire's reaction, who .... probably should have sought shelter from Hurricane Geno.
As always, the game's best images are at the top of this View. I'll see you guys and gals in the comments.