This is a rare story of an erstwhile phenom whose star has fallen, traded away from the only NHL team he's ever played for to make room for the next kid that's expected to make a big impact for the team, and the first game with his new team happens to be against his old team. Oh, and it's also the new kid's first NHL game. It seems like the sort of made-for-TV redemption story one might see on Hallmark Channel if one were to accidentally press the wrong combination of numbers on the remote control.
We know all about the Eric Tangradi story, but it's now time to start writing the book on newcomer Beau Bennett. While Tangradi started the game on a line with near-legend Olli Jokinen and veteran Kyle Wellwood, as is typical with Dan Bylsma-coached teams, Bennett, a forward who profiles as a top-6 winger, started the game on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy. Optimists would spin this as taking the pressure off for the new guy so that he doesn't squeeze the stick too hard and cause himself problems in the first few games of his career; pessimists would spin this to mean that the Penguins refuse to use inexperienced players in the roles they're accustomed to playing, thereby limiting their opportunities to succeed and forcing them to a play a role that they, perhaps, are not suited for. In this case, I'm siding with the pessimists, given that Bennett, as a skilled finesse forward is not at all the type of player one would normally find on a checking line. However, if you're a fan of the Penguins, you probably should have seen this coming.
Early on in the game, the top-scoring defenseman in the NHL, Tobias Enstrom, left the ice after a hard but clean check from Pascal Dupuis with an apparent injury to his left shoulder, and he wouldn't return. Very shortly after that, Craig Adams decided to start his own Occupy protest, camping out in Ondrej Pavelec's crease long enough to score on his third crack at the puck to make the score 1-0, his first goal of the season. Assists went to Joe Vitale and Kris Letang.
The plot line of the spurned Tangradi versus the young Bennett permeated the first period. Beau Bennett showed off his passing and skating skills, making pretty plays that ultimately did not result in goals but did earn him a promotion to the Evgeni Malkin-James Neal line, while Tangradi took advantage of the scoring ability of his line-mates to make a complete pest out of himself, throwing his considerable weight around including one particularly strong check on Simon Despres along the end boards. Considering this is something he didn't do much of at all in a Penguins uniform, one wonders what brought this on. Is it something Claude Noel told him? Is it from having a defined role for the first time in his NHL career? Is it that he's just as aware as I am of how interesting this story is? Perhaps a little of each.
To begin the second period, Bennett found that his promotion was short-lived, and Matt Niskanen found out just how much checks hurt when your back is turned to the player making the check. Ultimately he'd be fine, though, which is good because he's certainly better in that role than is Robert Bortuzzo. Ultimately, the period was scoreless as the Penguins held serve with the help of multiple Marc-Andre Fleury flurries to keep the puck out of the good guys' net. Other than Niskanen getting a new bruise, James Neal may have twisted his ankle a bit when he got tripped by Chris Thorburn, and our spotlight player, Beau Bennett, hobbled off the ice after blocking a shot at the blue line.
As the third period began, we learned quickly that Bennett and Neal were both still healthy enough to play. We also found out that the referees still can't choose the correct player to serve penalties, as they threw Pascal Dupuis in the sin bin for a highsticking penalty that Brooks Orpik committed. Luckily for the Penguins, the Jets were really never able to get going on that particular power play, so the zebras' mistake was not a true problem.
As the saga continued, The Spurned One faded into the background a bit while The Kid got a couple more chances with Malkin and Neal, showing soft hands.
After a ticky-tack interference call and then a blatant trip, the Penguins enjoyed a 5-on-3 power play that saw the worst penalty kill in the NHL nearly succeed in stymieing the number 3 power play unit, but James Neal had other ideas, getting his 11th goal in the league, his 6th goal in the last 7 games. Assists went to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
With Ondrej Pavelec out of the net, the Jets finally got on the board when Letang iced the puck and then Fleury made a save on a shot that never happened, giving Andrew Ladd the opportunity to pot his team-leading 7th goal of the season to make the score 2-1, assisted by Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Unfortunately for them and happily for Penguins fans everywhere, Craig Adams was able to score his second of the game into an empty net, getting charity assists for Chris Kunitz and Brooks Orpik, that being his first point of the season.
And so the first chapter of our saga would end. Eric Tangradi began the game like his face was on fire, but he disappeared late, ending the game with 1 shot, 2 blocked shots, and 4 hits in 12:42 TOI spread over 16 shifts. Beau Bennett was a more steady player but was held to 1 shot, 2 blocked shots, and 1 hit in 11:37 TOI spread over 12 shifts. Both players were even on the night. Head coach Dan Bylsma continues to avoid using young AHL callups in ways they're used to playing. Head coach Dan Bylsma continues to relieve pressure on young AHL callups by using them in situations where they won't necessarily be expected to fill the net. Pick your narrative; there's truth to both of them.
Quick bullet points:
- The Penguins led after the first period, 1-0, and they also carried play, outshooting the Jets 12-6. Prior to this game, the Penguins were 7-3-0 when leading after 1, and Winnipeg was 2-3-0 when trailing after 1. Despite having only 6 shots, a number of the saves Fleury had to make were eye-popping.
- No goals were scored in the second period, and the Jets outshot the Penguins 13-8 to put the total at 21-20. Again, before this game, the Penguins were 7-0-0 when leading after 2, and the Jets were 0-3-0 when trailing at the same point.
- Bob Errey related a funny story related to our subtext subject during the third period. When the Penguins got to Winnipeg and checked into their hotel rooms, Beau Bennett was surprised to see Eric Tangradi sitting in his room. Apparently there was a mix-up with room keys.