It's hockey day in America and so why not kick it off with a rematch of the first-ever Winter Classic? Plenty of lines were drawn early with a battle for first in goals and points between Sidney Crosby, Thomas Vanek, and James Neal. And, of course, you can't forget the Crosby vs. Ryan Miller rivalry that gains intensity with each game.
Pascal Dupuis opened up scoring just 35 seconds into the game. He redirected a Brooks Orpik slapper from the point. First shot on goal. Tyler Myers was called for a high stick and 20 seconds later, Sidney Crosby was able to tap the puck by Ryan Miller to continue his trolling against the goalie. The game wasn't even two minutes old and the Pens had a 2-0 lead with two shots against Miller. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a monster rebound and Cody Hodgson was there, unmarked, to finish it. The defense was out to lunch on that play.
The Pens started the second on the power play but were unable to convert. But with just over half the period to go, Crosby gets whistled for interference. Terrible penalty for Crosby to take. Off the faceoff, Tanner Glass commits a faceoff violation. 5-on-3 for Buffalo for almost two minutes. Vanek's goal-scoring touch makes an appearance and he redirects a Christian Ehrhoff shot. Tie game. Sabres were everywhere but the game remained tied going into the second intermission.
Steve Ott gave Buffalo their first lead of the game on an odd bounce off Paul Martin, but Dupuis tied it up two minutes later after a ridiculous cross-ice pass from Kris Letang. The release was James Neal-like. Just as the game was winding down and overtime felt imminent, Martin blasted a feed from Crosby in the upper right-hand corner. Pens take the lead with just over two minutes left in the game and this time, they keep it. Some scrums around Fleury by the end of the game, but the Pens sealed the game off the stick of Martin.
Hard to imagine after last year, no? Martin's having a heck of a redemption season.
The Pens have had a bad habit of starting off really fast, as we saw today, but then playing with an air of indifference. Often times, it has cost the Pens games and other times, they've managed to get away with it. It was looking like the Sabres were going to take the game after Ott's goal, but the Pens' response couldn't have been better. Instead of getting bogged down in penalties like they've done a few times already, they buckled down and played hockey.
Some more notes:
- I'm in agreement with the notion that both the American and Canadian Anthems should be played before games, no matter what.
- In 14 games, Crosby has 9 goals and 16 assists (could be 10 goals and 15 assists if Martin's goal is changed to Crosby's) against Miller. Crosby registered a point in each of those games except one. But Miller had a spectacular game in his own right. His save in the final three minutes of the game on a passing play between Evgeni Malkin, Crosby, and Neal was ridiculous and easily the save of the game.
- Pens have allowed only six first period goals. That's the least in NHL.
- Matt Niskanen had an awesome game. He was disrupting plays left and right all over the Pens' defensive zone. On Dupuis' goal, he kept the puck in play to avoid offsides and he made a great defensive play on Jason Pominville right in the crease to keep the game tied. Tremendous year for him, even though he's missed games due to injury.
- Beau Bennett played only 12:29 seconds and recorded one shot, looking more comfortable today than he did against Winnipeg. I think we're all excited to see what he'll be able to do once he's fully integrated on the team.
- Speaking of Bennett, he played only one minute less than Tyler Kennedy. Seems like Bylsma's patience really could be wearing thin.
- Fleury looked shaky at times in net, but he did what needed to be done. I wonder if Bylsma might startTomas Vokoun against Philadelphia.
- Let's look at the leader board: Vanek has taken the lead in goals (12) and remains the leader in points (25). However, Neal and Crosby are knocking on his door.
Flyers are up next. Nothing more needs to be said about that.