It's only opening night, and just one game of 82, but for only an evening the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury showed defensive poise, calm and made it all happen, leading to a 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils.
For a lot people, it won't mean much. After all, Fleury has been a very effective goalie in the past two regular seasons and then fallen flat on his face in the playoffs. And until he rights that wrong, it's still out there. Still, in October, he can't do that and everyone knows it. "Happy to get in there and get a win. It's a long season though, glad this first one is done, and I'm looking forward to the next one," Fleury said after the game, in pure Crash Davis clichés.
The Pens started out hot, scoring two goals within three minutes in the middle of the first period. First, Beau Bennett took a stretch pass into the neutral zone and chipped the puck over the Brandon Sutter. Sutter entered the zone, and fired a shot on net that new Devils goalie Cory Schneider stopped, but left a rebound. New Penguin Chuck Kobasew was right there to snap the rebound home.
Just a few minutes later Sidney Crosby found himself in the zone with the puck on his stick and snapped a beautiful wrist shot over Schneider. If getting one goal on the Devils is huge, a 2-0 is massive and that's where Pittsburgh found themselves after a period.
The second period saw the Devils out-shoot the Penguins 9-3 but no goals be scored. In the third, Craig Adams capped the scoring when he took an Evgeni Malkin pass and buried it calmly like a pro on a long, low shot. Tanner Glass passed to Malkin and drove the net and created the "center drive" that helped Adams.
That would be it for the scoring, but not all the excitement. Fleury stopped all 12 NJD shots in the 3rd period, including a penalty shot by Adam Henrique after Matt Niskanen tripped him.
It's one night, but the Pens earned the first win of the Metropolitan Division, and you can't win 'em all if you don't win the first one. Some more thoughts on the game:
- James Neal, who hadn't skated in 2 days, was a "game-time decision" with an unknown upper body injury and decided to play...But he only played 5 shifts and 3:49 in the first period before leaving the game and not returning. That left the forward lines in disarray and Neal's status in question in the future. No word why Neal and the coaches pushed for him to play in game 1 of an 82 game season..
- Olli Maatta made his NHL debut, playing a defensemen low and sheltered 14:44 of ice-time with mixed results. As expected for a 19 year old, he made a couple of little flubs with the puck on his stick, but also regained enough composure to right his wrongs and take care of any danger. All in all, no harm no foul and nice to see him break into the league. He's going to be a good one.
- On Root Sports they pointed out that all the goals came off the rush. Such a crucial element against the always tough Devils to get enough speed (plus accurate and fast enough long passes) to pull that off, so credit the Pens to do that tonight.
- Probably the best game Glass has had as a Penguin tonight. Already he equaled his assist total from last season on the play on the 3rd goal. Glass had a fight against Ryane Clowe (taking the latter off the ice for five minutes). Throw in four hits, three blocked shots and a takeaway and it was an impressive performance for a guy under the microscope for his salary as a 4th line forward.
- Every Pens center was 50% or better in the faceoff circle tonight- Crosby was a beast, best in the game at 68% on 23 draws, Malkin was 55% on 11 faceoffs and Brandon Sutter was 50% on 14 for the top three centers.
- Defensively Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi were quiet and virtually mistake-free. Martin led everyone in the game in ice-time with 24:26, with 3 takeaways and a blocked shot. In his first game back in Pittsburgh since 2009, Scuds played 19:41 with a giveaway and a blocked shot.
- This game makes me remember Game 1 against the Islanders in the playoffs. Fleury had a shutout then too. It's what comes after this that matters. But in one instance, when MAF had a puck fly by him, hit the post, hit his back and then he quickly reached behind his back to glove the puck. Post-game, Fleury joked about watching the Pirates too much to make such a play. But it's the type of incident that would have trickled over the goal-line the past few springs. Tonight it stayed out. We'll see what happens next time.