Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin quickly sensed the situation and who was on the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Namely Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang.
The game Tuesday at PNC Arena had gone to overtime, and Canes coach Bill Peters had Hanifin out with forward Jordan Staal and another rookie defenseman, Jaccob Slavin.
“It’s a lot of fun but a little nerve-racking,” Hanifin said Wednesday.
Added Slavin, “You’re definitely aware of who’s out there and where they are.”
But the Canes held their own. Evgeni Malkin was called for hooking Staal behind the Carolina net, and Jeff Skinner soon scored on a four-on-three power play to give the Canes a 3-2 victory.
It was the second straight overtime victory for the Canes. They topped the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 Saturday as Staal scored on a shot from the right circle with Hanifin driving the net to his left.
Slavin picked up an assist on the goal, knocking the puck up the right boards toward Staal, who then chipped it past the Blue Jackets’ Brandon Saad to set up the rush.
We’re trying to win. Just because we’re going with one forward and two D doesn’t mean we’re trying to be conservative.
Canes coach Bill Peters
With the three-on-three overtime now a part of the NHL game, it has made for interesting matchups and strategies. Another game Tuesday was decided in overtime as both the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers used two forwards and a defenseman during the extra period. The Coyotes won4-3.
The Canes opened Tuesday’s OT with defensemen Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey with Jordan Staal, then Faulk and Hainsey with forward Eric Staal. Peters also used forwards Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask with defenseman John-Michael Liles before going with Slavin, Hanifin and Jordan Staal.
Asked if his one forward/two defensemen strategy was based on analytics, game planning or a coach’s feel, Peters quickly said, “Coach’s feel.”
“We like the way our D skate, and we’re going to play guys who are playing well that specific night,” he added. “To sit there and map it out and say you’re going to use this guy and that guy is a little bit unrealistic. We’re going to watch it and see who’s got jump and who’s dangerous.
“We’re trying to win. Just because we’re going with one forward and two D doesn’t mean we’re trying to be conservative. We’re trying to give ourselves the best opportunity to win.”
Faulk, who has a powerful shot, has 14 goals this season. Slavin and Hanifin are rookies, but they’re slick skaters who handle the puck well.
Hainsey doesn’t score much, but the veteran is a good skater who knocked in a backhander off the rush in overtime to beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Oct. 29.
“Noah Hanifin seems to find himself all alone down the left side in overtime all the time,” Peters said. “Ron Hainsey is very good in overtime. He’s a big, rangy guy and seems to let himself loose. We like all our D in that scenario.”
Once the Canes are in the defensive zone, they use man-to-man matchups, much like basketball. There’s no time to switch, Peters said, and a player must be aware of the other team’s changes off the bench.
The Nashville Predators edged the Canes 2-1 in overtime Jan. 2 when defenseman Mattias Ekholm came in on a quick change. Skinner was slow in picking him up, and Ekholm scored.
Two nights later against Edmonton, the Oilers won 1-0 in overtime when defenseman Andrej Sekera was unchecked and scored on a rebound.
The Canes, on the road Thursday to face the St. Louis Blues, now are 6-6 in overtime games, going to a shootout just once this season.
Hanifin was at Boston College this time last season. In college hockey, he said, it’s five-on-five in overtime. Heprefers the three-on-three change the NHL made this season to prevent as many games from being decided in shootouts.
Three-on-threes have proven to be free-wheeling, exciting, unpredictable.
“I love it,” Hanifin said. “Guys who can really skate, I think, are really successful. I think it’s awesome.”
If nerve-racking at times.