Old rivalries were renewed in Detroit when the Pittsburgh Penguins rolled into town for the first time since they left with Lord Stanley's Cup back in June. Didn't take long to see that neither team likes one another.
Early in the game Detroit got a couple power plays early, but Marc-Andre Fleury was there to shut the door on several excellent chances early. But there was nothing Fleury could do when Valtteri Filppula drove down on Sergei Gonchar and pulled a quick toe-drag with the puck, which totally changed the angle. Before Gonchar could get his stick in position to block, Filppula used Gonch as a screen and snapped a shot by Fleury.
That was in the final minute of the first period, and if a coach has taught you anything it's don't give up a goal in the first or last minute of a period. It's a momentum shifting back-breaker. And on this night it was a sign of things to come.
In the second Henrik Zetterberg would strike when the Penguins defense broke down and he collected his own rebound off of the mass of humanity (Todd Bertuzzi and Sidney Crosby were tied up in front of Fleury) and put it home. Why was Crosby in a defenseman's spot? Well he and Gonchar switched defensive assignments on the fly, and it didn't quite work out.
The Pens would strike back before the second ended; a line of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis did some work down low and Dupuis banged a puck past Jimmy Howard, the only time the Pens would beat him.
Zetterberg would close the scoring by striking right inside the blueline on transition from a Flipulla pass. Fleury was out and appeared to have wanted that one back, but it beat him just the same.
- There were some fireworks at the end with Crosby sparring with Zetterberg and Howard after the final whistle, but by that point everything was decided. The Penguins have seemed to sleep walk through a lot of this season, and you have to credit the Red Wings for their typical, frustrating superior puck possession, but the boys have to step it up in more than empty gestures.
- Based off of just this game: boy, you sure wouldn't want to be a #1 or #2 seed in the West the draws Detroit. Howard may still be an unknown, but he looks solid. Guys like Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are all playing well and Filpulla was arguably the best player with the puck all night long.
- By the same measure the Penguins look a little punchless. Get well soon Evgeni Malkin, eh?
- Sergei Gonchar's night was rough: on ice for all three goals against, took two minor penalties. He still skated 23:19 and ate some tough minutes, but this won't be a night that makes his personal highlight reel, that's for sure.
- The Penguins again have shown defensive breakdowns, some lapses and seem to be missing a "Piece". So why's Jay McKee a healthy scratch again?
- Crosby's night wasn't all bad; he did well in the faceoff circle (his final numbers slipped to just a 54% winner on the night), got three shots and dished some nice passes, it just didn't add up. The competitive fire's still definitely there, just a matter of time before #87 breaks out for one of those four or five point nights. But he's gonna need some help.
- A question that no one would ever thought would be asked: where would the Penguins be without....Pascal Dupuis? Duper's got 5 goals and 8 points in post-Olympic play and has been one of the most consistent and hardest working players on the ice in the games.
- Fleury would want the third goal back, for sure, but it's unfair to pile on him for this one. The Red Wings threw a lot of great shots on him, especially early and without the Flower this one would have gotten out of hand quickly.
So in "hate week" the Pens lay an egg in game 1. The adversity and the atmosphere won't die down with a marque matchup in Washington and a crowd eager to see their team clinch the #1 seed in the East before anyone else has clinched a playoff berth. Malkin's status remains unknown, and frankly, the work level of the team does too. They're the champs and deserve a benefit of the doubt, but it's unsettling to seemingly watch them squander game after game. It won't really matter for a couple more weeks, but you still want to be moving with a good forward and there's got to be more than a few guys in the lockeroom unhappy with their individual compete levels to start turning this thing in the right direction now that we're getting to crunch time.