Game. Set. And Match.
Welcome to a new season. It starts on the road, three time zones away, against the team that won the Presidents'Trophy and went to game seven of the Stanley Cup final. Oh, and the Pittsburgh Penguinswould be without the services of their captain and universally recognized best player in the game Sidney Crosby.
Yep, welcome to the 2011-12 regular season.
The ebb and flow of the game was undeniable; the Pens would take the edge and press for a bit, then the Canucks would stirke back and press their momentum with shots and zone possession of their own.
Five minutes into the game, well, let's look at Faceoff Factor's season preview to recap my prediction of who would score the first goal of the year:
Here’sa tip for you guys – in the last two months of October James Nealhas 13 goals and 13 assists in 24 games. He’s a very fast starter. So I’ll say he unleashes a rocket an assist from Malkin for the first goal of the year….And it’ll be the power play, no less
Ok, so maybe it wasn't a rocket, per se, but Neal scores on the power play from a Malkin assist and I will take full credit for calling it. Pens 1-0.
Pittsburgh would strike again at the tail end of a power play seven minutes later when Pascal Dupuis corraled a puck behind the net and flung it out into space to Matt Cooke. Cooke 2.0 buried a high shot over Roberto Luongo, and just like that it's 2-0 Pens.
But the Vancouver Canuckswould not go away quietly. Before the first period ended, Maxim Lapierre whipped a puck from a terrible angle towards Marc-Andre Fleury. Somehow the Flower ended up kicking it into his own net, with visions of a Detroit Stanley Cup final fluke goal in game one of the season. 2-1 Pens after one period.
Matt Cooke 2.0 would strike back again short-handed, 3 minutes into the second period, with a wrister that eluded Luongo to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
But before the second period would end, Kris Letang(who registered two assists already) tried to pinch in but couldn't grab the puck, Keith Ballardcame up with a head of steam, and undeterred wristed a beauty of a shot by Fleury to bring the score to 3-2.
In the third Vancouver would draw the score even, when on a delayed penalty to Paul Martin, Henrik Sedin found the puck and made a sublime pass to his twin brother Daniel Sedinin space in the slot. Daniel settled, waited, and made a perfect top shelf shot to make the score 3-3.
It'd stay that way through overtime into the shootout.
The shootout was Penguin time last season, and this year started the same. Fleury stone Mikael Samuelsson on a shot and then Letangwent. Kris skated in on Luongo, deked 3 times and went back hand shelf, Goal.
Alex Burrows went next, but Fleury stopped him gloveside. Next came Evgeni Malkin, Geno made no mistakes, skating in slowly, deke-deke-top shelf. Luongo flopped, Malkin went high. Game, set, match.
Pens take 2 points out of Vancouver.
- Last season the Penguins PK was #1 in the league. The Canucks PP was #1 in the league. Something had to give. The Pens PK was 3 for 3 and had Cooke's short-handed goal. Definitely a postive night there.
- On the other side of the coin, Pittsburgh's much maligned power play went 2 for 3. We at Pensburgh will take that special teams action every night of the week.
- Fleury gave up 3 goals, but you can't really pin much on him. Lapierre's bad angle goal was unfortunate, but he shut the door and made several great saves to keep his team in there.
- Matt Cooke 2.0 won't change anyone's opinion in one game. And, while he's certain to fall of his current 164 goal/season pace, Cooke showed what hockey-smart people know: he can play the game. Get rid of the bad hits, and he's a valuable player; For tonight, he definitely was.
- Jordan Staal left the game hobbling in the 3rd and would not return. No status yet on Big Gronk, but already down Sidney Crosby, the Pens can't afford to be without their Selke worthy center.
- Zbynek Michalek was on the ice for all three of the Pens goals against and took a bad penalty. It's a long season, and you can't judge it on one game, and this is the perfect case study of that.
- It was an up and down return for Evgeni Malkin. He assisted on Neal's goal, but he also only won 25% of his faceoffs (4 for 16). And took a bad penalty. The space Geno found in the pre-season disappeared tonight in the regular season, but you can bet that he'll be better the next time out. And the game ending shootout goal won't hurt his confidence.
At the end of the day, taking two points on the road is a good thing. Especially when you go out 3 time zones away against the West's Stanley Cup representative. The Pens have plenty of room for improvement, but they showed some heart and got the W.
As John Madden famously said: "you can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one". And while no one expects 82-0, it's better to start 1-0 than 0-1 or 0-0-1.