RALEIGH -- It lasted a minute and 51 seconds but seemed longer, especially for the four Pittsburgh Penguins skaters trapped on the ice.
The Carolina Hurricanes scored their only goal Tuesday against the Penguins on a power play that never left the Pittsburgh zone, that was all about hustle and determination. Jeff Skinner scored but only after some hard work by Victor Rask, Lee Stempniak, Noah Hanifin and Phil Di Giuseppe.
A week ago, Di Giuseppe was playing for the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. On Tuesday, he was on the Canes’ power play, winning a few board battles and diving into the right circle to tip the puck to Stempniak, who then set up Skinner for his 20th goal of the season.
For Di Giuseppe, the assist was his first NHL point since Dec. 8. It has been a season of starts and stops, recalls and reassignments for the 23-year-old forward.
“It has been a learning experience,” Di Giuseppe said. “Last year I was up (with the Canes) much of the year. This year, I made the team out of camp but wasn’t there offensively, so it was good to go down there and play more minutes and kind of be more confident with the puck.
“With that comes a learning curve and I think it will be good for me years down the road. Obviously once you’re here you want to stay and make a career of it, but that’s not how everyone’s career goes. I’m back up here with another shot.”
And shooting. Recalled Saturday from the Checkers, Di Giuseppe tied his career high with seven shots Sunday in the Canes’ 4-0 loss to Toronto. He also had three blocked and had another graze the post as he spent time around the Maple Leafs’ net.
“I felt confident with the puck and most of my shots came from inside the crease, kind hacking and whacking at it,” he said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t bounce one in. But if keep myself around that area and keep hacking away, they’ve got to start going in.”
Di Giuseppe was a part of the most memorable moment in Sunday’s game, trailing the Leafs’ Auston Matthews as the dynamic rookie forward drove the net for a did-you-see-that kind of score. Matthews, dogged by Di Giuseppe from behind, fell forward but still scored with a backhander.
“I saw that (Matthews) had a good look at the cage and I didn’t try to hook him, just tried to get my stick in there,” Di Giuseppe said. “He cut in on me and we know what happened.”
Di Giuseppe played 11 early season games before being sent back to the Checkers on Nov. 11. Recalled Nov. 29, he was in the lineup for another seven games, scoring the overtime winner Dec. 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena.
But after a West Coast trip, Di Giuseppe was sent back to Charlotte, spending a lot of time on a line with center Lucas Wallmark and winger Valentin Zykov. Wallmark, in his first professional season in North America, has a team-high 17 goals for the Checkers, scoring 19 seconds into Sunday’s game against Milwaukee.
Di Giuseppe compared Wallmark, 21, to Canes center Victor Rask, another Swede, saying, “His biggest strength is his brain, his knowledge of the game. He’s very patient with the puck and has a deceptive shot.”
Zykov, 21, was obtained from the Los Angeles Kings last season in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg to the Kings at the trade deadline.
“He’s hard to knock off the puck and is heavy in the corners,” Di Giuseppe said. “He’s a good net-front kind of player.”
Di Giuseppe wants to give the Canes the same kind of play — strong on the forecheck, strong around the net. And a presence on the power play.
“Just be consistent game to game,” he said.