A bit of a surprise, Matt Murray is the backup goalie! He comes off the injured reserve list and Pittsburgh puts Conor Sheary on it to stay under the 23-man limit. Mike Condon is made a healthy scratch.
Also Sidney Crosby (officially a "game-time decision" but expected to return), did make a return to the lineup for his season debut following a concussion earlier in the month.
The Penguins look good early (up 3-0 in official shots on goal) and have lots of zone time in the first 5 minutes of the game. Then Patric Hornqvist takes an offensive zone hooking call. They kill it but just 2 minutes later, Trevor Daley heads to the box on an obvious tripping call after his man catches him flat-footed in the offensive zone. The Pens kill that too.
But their good luck on killing bad penalties runs out. After getting caught way up ice, Brian Dumoulin inexplicably high-sticks a player way behind the play. No need for that. Florida finally capitalizes with a rebound goal for Reilly Smith.
Reilly Smith goal pic.twitter.com/XltUo81WAz— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 25, 2016
Pretty dreadful end to the period by the Penguins who have a lot to clean up and adjust for the final 40 and to make matters worse Dumoulin leaves the game with taking a puck to the face and doesn't return.
The Panthers make it 2-0 with a tip-in goal with Mark Pysyk coming up from his spot on defense to deflect a hard pass from Shane Harper. Marc-Andre Fleury looked on the angle to take a shot from Harper and was unable to adjust in time.
Pysyk puts Florida up 2-0 pic.twitter.com/KjGbKVD367— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 26, 2016
The Penguins finally get on the board with Crosby score his first goal on the power play, finding the middle of the ice all alone and then Malkin finds the wide open Sid. 2-1 Panthers
Who says intermission has to be a break from hockey?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2016
Let's see that Crosby power-play goal one more time. pic.twitter.com/yCN6dezvPv
No clue how those Florida PK'ers all ended up on the same side of the ice, but hey the great ones always seem to take advantage and pop up in the spaces when they appear, don't they?
Shots were 11-4 Pens, but it didn't really "feel" from watching that Pittsburgh was in the driver's seat. Yeah, they got the Sid goal but meh, not a lot of pleasing hockey.
Kessel big shot off the crossbar 3:30 into the period. Nice chance and a high heavy shot, just barely missed the mark.
Pens have adjusted lines, Matt Cullen is up with Crosby+Hornqvist, Kunitz-Malkin-Kessel are together and Hagelin-Bonino-Rust. The last pair finds the board, Nick Bonino shovels a puck from the wall to the middle like he has so many times and Carl Hagelin fires a puck by James Reimer to tie the game at 2.
He waits... He waits... HE SCORES! pic.twitter.com/eTd2LMwM8I— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 26, 2016
The 4th line gets in on the act. Cullen appears to lose a d-zone faceoff but Tom Kuhnhackl collects the puck and skates quickly up the ice. Kuhnhacjl leaves Jason Demers in the dust and puts a great pass over for Eric Fehr to tap in his 1st goal of the season and give the Pens their 1st lead of the game.
Fehr go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/1R4jVp23Yt— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 26, 2016
And that stands as the winner, the Pens hold onto the game right down to the wire with a nice shot block by Daley with a few seconds left.
- The three early stick infractions continue the frustration of coaches and fans alike in the Pens lax tendencies. That they were offensive-zone initiated only furthers that. Not really sure how they clean that up except to get sharper in their focus and execution, but meh, it's October and a long season. No team, even defending champs, are without their flaws and frustrations.
- Both of the first two penalties hurt the skill players from getting in a normal groove and rhythm. 12 minutes into the game, Phil Kessel had just 2 shifts and 1:54 TOI. Evgeni Malkin only had 3 shifts and less than 3 minutes of TOI. The Pens may have killed the penalties (good on the PK units) but just taking those penalties put themselves behind the 8-ball a little bit.
- Interesting to see the Ian Cole / Justin Schultz pair get starting duties with the Crosby line to open both periods. This is typical almost always Letang paired with the Crosby line and probably will be when #58 is healthy again but it does go to show how high the #3 pair has risen as of late in the eys of the coaching staff.
- Crosby is notorious difficult for newcomers to play with (or at least so the narrative goes) but it will be interesting to watch how Scott Wilson does on the top line. Wilson+Crosby only played 42 minutes together at 5v5 last season. They had a couple little nifty plays tonight, perhaps something to build on.
- The in-game loss of Dumoulin for the early 2nd was damaging to the Pens, having to shuffle through their 5 dmen more.. The players seemed to play OK, but down to 5D is always rough and Dumoulin is one of the unit's better passers and players, never good to lose that suddenly in the course of a game. And then as soon as he comes back, Daley gets high-sticked and temporarily leaves the game for the rest of the second period.
- The Pens almost looked like they were sleepwalking until the Crosby PP goal. The 3rd period they were playing up to their capabilities and the game definitely had their full attention and effort once it was tied but before? Not so much. Could be an issue for most of the first-half of the year when not playing marquee opponents.
- A lot have fans have wondered when Sheary returns (if no other forwards get hurt) who would sit. We were about to use this space to hint at Kuhnhackl, who got a team low in TOI, the fewest shifts and no PK time. However, he did make a great play on the go-ahead goal in the 4th period, and is generally reliable in a 4th line role, so who knows. Back to square one, for now.
- If you didn't know Crosby suffered a concussion less than 3 weeks ago, you wouldn't have known it by his play. Seemed like a normal, typical Crosby game, he didn't shy from contact (checking a FLA defenseman right off the bat), was active along the wall, driving to the net with the puck. Pretty much looked comfortable doing all the things he normally does on the ice without much visual trepidation. Which of course is a big plus and hopefully head injuries are in the rear-view for a long, long, long time.
Not the prettiest game, but the 2 points count just the same. The Penguins definitely have a lot to clean up in terms of taking bad penalties and hurting themselves, and maybe a better start, but hey. It is a results oriented business and the result of the game was a positive one tonight in the return to the lineup of Crosby.