The Pittsburgh Penguins opened up Consol Energy Center for the first game of the season, and once again, the crowd watched a game without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. And you can add Brooks Orpik and Dustin Jeffrey to the list as well. Looking at the four of them in their suits, it hit me just how much talent was standing there, wishing they were in their gear on the ice. Crosby, Malkin and Orpik are also the teams biggest leaders as they all wear a letter on their jersey.
The opening ceremony was pure chill-inducing from the opening montage that brought the Pens back to their childhood playing days to the announcing of each player. I know I'm not alone when I say that I was so happy to see Matt Cooke receive a loud welcome home from Pens fans. And of course, Kris Letang, Malkin and Crosby helped get the crowd going.
With so much star power out of the lineup (as per usual) the Pens had yet another tough task ahead of them as they faced their first game less than two days after finishing their last in a completely different time zone. The Florida Panthers, who underwent a surgery of epic proportions in the offseason, played with something to prove.
Play was very choppy, going back forth for a large portion of the game and in the first period, the Pens really took it to the Panthers. The Pens disrupted play in all three zones, making the Panthers almost look foolish at times. Dupuis eventually netted his first of the season off a scramble in front of the net. This becomes the theme for the rest of the Pens' goals.
Joe Vitale's assist on the second goal of the night was simply a thing of beauty. Dupuis dished a backhanded pass from the blue line to Vitale who just soared down the ice, weaved around Jason Garrison and sent Cooke a hand-wrapped gift that was cashed in on the blue paint. Richard Park also put his name one the scoreboard by downright embarrassing the Panthers' power play unit. A little hustle goes a long way and Park was rewarded when Craig Adams forced a turnover that lead to a Park shot off the post, off Dmitry Kulikov and in the net.
Just when things started getting interesting with Florida making it a 3-2 game, James Neal shoves the dagger in their hearts to extend the lead by two once more. A closer look at the goal shows it was almost a mirror image of Vitale's: power move deke, cross ice pass for the tap in.
In short, after the first period, Florida was very much in this game, but the Pens wouldn't let the Panthers take any kind of control over the game, even when things went array at points.
Power play wasn't too bad, but what do you expect when the team is without Malkin and Crosby. Getting that shorthanded goal certain put some bonus stickers on the Pens' special teams report card, further demonstrating the team's domination down a man. It's also fun to note that the Pens are leading the NHL in shorthanded goals with two and only the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs have recorded shorthanded goals thus far.
Marc-Andre Fleury also stood tall once more, despite letting in a ticky tacky goal. He made the save of the week as a loose puck bounced around the paint while and Ben Lovejoy did all they could to keep it from crossing the line. Fleury's GAA is .911 overall which isn't too bad, but I see some improvement as the season continues. I know stats are a big deal, especially for goalies, but right now, only one stat matters for Fleury: 3-0.
Florida ended the game with a two-man advantage with a power play and empty net, but it meant little as the penalty kill completely sucked the air out of their play.
Some other fun facts:
- Letang is leading the NHL in points and assists. Huh? Side note: Letang was all over the ice. I'm calling a Norris watch for him.
- Cooke is leading NHL in goals. Thus begins Rocket Richard watch.
- Pens took faceoffs like no one's business. With their best percentage this season, the Pens won 62% of their faceoffs
- Tough night for Zbynek Michalek (it pains me to say it). He ended the night with a -2 and looked lost at times.
- Fleury took a chance to score an empty netter toward during the Panthers' final power play. The puck was very close to backfiring back in his own net.
What really stood out to me this game was the Pens' scrappy play. They scored the dirty goals and that's exactly what they need when skill players are out of the lineup. It wasn't a pretty game nor was it their best game, but this team knows how to win whatever way it takes.
Pens get a short break and then it's the Washington Capitals. No words needed for what will come this Thursday.