The Tampa Bay Lightning had seven minutes and 10 seconds of power-play time Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Canes defenseman Brett Pesce, more than anyone, would know that. He was on the ice for all seven minutes and 10 seconds.
The trade of defenseman Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins last week has brought changes for the Canes the past four games. New defensive pairings. New penalty killers. Penalty killers asked to do more.
“We definitely lost a leader on the back end and a leader on the team,” Pesce said after the trade. “He was great to us young guys. But he’s gone now, and there’s big roles to fill and guys have to step up, for sure, and step into a bigger role.”
For much of the season, Pesce and Jaccob Slavin played together while Hainsey was paired with Justin Faulk. Hainsey was the veteran D-man and Faulk an NHL All-Star, but Pesce and Slavin were the Canes’ most effective defensive twosome most nights.
After the Hainsey trade, Canes coach Bill Peters split them up, playing Slavin with Faulk and Pesce with Noah Hanifin. On Wednesday, in the 4-3 overtime road loss to the Lightning, Peters had Slavin and Pesce together at times and relied heavily on Faulk, Slavin and Pesce.
Pesce’s 7:10 of shorthanded ice time was almost three minutes more than any of the other penalty killers. The Canes allowed a first-period power-play goal to Victor Hedman but killed off three other penalties, including a Teuvo Teravainen tripping call with 3:50 left in regulation and the Lightning ahead 3-2.
Jay McClement scored a shorthanded goal, redirecting a Slavin shot, to tie the score with 2:37 remaining, and Pesce twice cleared the puck after the goal. That earned the Canes (25-25-10) a point as Hedman’s goal won it early in overtime.
The Canes outshot the Lightning 18-4 in the opening period, getting goals from Hanifin and then Derek Ryan on the power play. Their 2-1 lead held up until the third period, when Tampa Bay took the 3-2 lead.
Pesce, 22, was playing college hockey for New Hampshire two years ago. After 129 games in the NHL, he has established himself as a solid defenseman who has the size, at 6-3 and 200 pounds, the speed and the toughness to handle the rigors and grind of an NHL season.
“He’s a predator, a beast,” Slavin said, smiling.
On a team where nearly every player has a minus plus/minus rating this season, Pesce is plus-10 in 60 games – Slavin has a team-best plus-11 rating.
Pesce said he doesn’t pay much attention to plus/minus, saying, “I don’t read into it too much because some of it’s luck, to be honest, being on the ice at the right time.” There’s some truth to that, but plus/minus also is a gauge to a player’s play at even strength.
“Yeah, you still have to play solid in your defensive zone,” Pesce said. “That’s my game, so I try to do that the best.”
Pesce is able to jump into rush but needs to be a more accurate shooter. He has two goals on 75 shots and has missed the net at times with good looks, as if rushing the shot.
But that can be improved. Pesce’s work in the D-zone has been his forte.
“He’s just a very poised player,” Slavin said. “Any time he gets the puck he knows what he’s going to do with it. He never panics under pressure.”
Looking at Pesce, it’s hard to believe he was a slightly pudgy goalie (“Too many chocolate bars”) as a 7-year-old in Tarrytown, N.Y. He later played forward before moving to defenseman.
Baseball and lacrosse were other interests, but hockey is his sport. As he put it, “I really like the fast pace and the intensity of hockey.”
ARIZONA COYOTES AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.