It’s the third game of the season, and the third different lineup for the Penguins. Bryan Rust is out after being injured last game, but Zach Aston-Reese is able to make his season debut. Drew O’Connor gets in for Sam Lafferty on a coach’s decision. Tristan Jarry is back in net.
And for Chicago, an old friend:
It’s a very unusual thing when Mike Sullivan doesn’t start his first line at the beginning of periods, but he doesn’t start Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter, instead electing to match his new buzzsaw against Jonathan Toews. It ends up paying off, instantly. Seth Jones inexplicably dives and takes himself off his skates and out of the play, which makes Marc-Andre Fleury try to break up the incoming center pass from Teddy Blueger. But the pass hits Jones to compound his problems, and it flutters past Fleury just 15 seconds in. 1-0 Pens.
It's a great day when you score while the 'starting lines' are still scrolling on the TV screen pic.twitter.com/4bUhQBstAu— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 16, 2021
And while the defense let Fleury down early, he doesn’t help his own cause a bit later going out to play a puck and not doing so successfully. It ends up being a gift for O’Connor to record his first career NHL goal, which is a lot easier to do when the goalie is no where even in the picture near the net. 2-0 Pens, 5:33 in.
The Pens get another, with O’Connor doing well and showing his speed to collect the puck and push it ahead for a 2-on-1. Another terrible defensive play with Riley Stillman getting hung up in no man’s land and defending neither player, allowing O’Connor to slide the puck over to Brock McGinn. McGinn quickly one-timed the puck and the change of angle was too much for Fleury to account for. 3-0 Pens, 10:33 in.
BROCK MCG-INN THE NET!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 16, 2021
What a game this has been so far! pic.twitter.com/Tiu2eXSEfl
The very next shift, the Pens chase Fleury from the game. Another elite defensive play from Marcus Pettersson (this one not so subtle!) to lift the stick of a Blackhawk and prevent a shot. The puck goes the other way with Jeff Carter entering the zone and bumping it over to Jake Guentzel. Guentzel pulls up and hits Danton Heinen with a pass. Heinen releases quickly and with a high shot across Fleury’s blocker to make it 4-0, and after 11:25 Fleury gets pulled.
Has Danton Heinen ever scored goals in three straight games?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 16, 2021
NOW HE HAS! pic.twitter.com/XzWlXitflC
The rest of the period is uneventful enough until the end. The whistle blows with 40 seconds left in the first, there’s some ice issues that send the teams to the locker room to give time for repairs.
Shots in the first are 13-3 Pens. Chicago looked sluggish enough from playing last night in New Jersey, Pittsburgh looked very sharp and everything seemed to end up in the net behind Fleury.
The teams play the last 40 seconds of the first and nothing happens, there’s a whistle and they flip sides of the ice.
Aston-Reese takes a penalty 4:51 into the second, and it only takes nine seconds for Patrick Kane to get on the board with his first goal of the season with a big slapshot one-timer from the right side. 4-1 Pens.
The two teams trade a pair of power play a piece for each other, including Brian Boyle getting rung up for a double minor to negate a Pittsburgh power play, but no goals come as a result.
Later, on a 6v5 ensuing power play call for the Pens on the whistle, Jason Zucker doesn’t need a stinkin’ power play and swats a backhander into the net to clean up a Kasperi Kapanen rebound. 5-1 Pens.
Shots in the second period are 15-8 Chicago, as they push back after falling down early. Overall through 40 minutes it’s a 21-18 edge for the Pens in the shot column, but a more commanding 5-1 lead where it counts.
A “steady as she goes” third as the Pens just keep the clock moving, keep working enough to have the game finish out.
With 4:03 left, the Pens are in shutdown mode too much. A lazy play off the wall by Heinen turns the puck over at a bad spot in the defensive zone, and Brandon Hagel moves the puck over for Kirby Dach to chip it past Jarry. 5-2.
Nothing else happens as time expires for the Pens to claim the victory in their home opener.
- Fleury didn’t help his cause on the O’Connor goal, but the defense in front of him was pretty brutal throughout early portion he played. Chicago has a lot to work out early in the season in terms of tracking players — they were giving up endless odd man rushes against, and the defender remaining often made poor decisions to make matters worse for the goalie.
- The Pens’ fourth line was cookin’ with gas. Drew O’Connor got lifted on Thursday as a healthy scratch, a bit disappointing since he was pretty good in the opener. He rebounded with a goal and an assist and looked great. If Rust wasn’t hurt, there’s a pretty good chance O’Connor wouldn’t have played tonight, but he did, so that was a fortunate turn of events.
- Danton Heinen now has a goal in each of the three games this season as a Penguin. Nothing too flashy, but he’s clearly a player that the puck gets off his stick quickly and he is capable of finding the back of the net. Looks like a huge addition to the team.
- John Marino is up to three assists on three games of the season, and it’s building his confidence too, especially compared to last season. Marino is advancing the puck well, skating with authority and looks to be at his best right now, no doubt fueled by the results of a good start. That’s about a 180 degree turn from where he finished last season at.
- It was great to see Zucker get a goal. At one point in the second period I was thinking it was weird how for as well as Zucker and Kapanen had played in the preseason and in the first few games, neither of them had scored a goal. Nice to get on the board for the year and open it up, goals tend to come in bunches. Zucker hit the crossbar in the first against Fleury in a period where it seemed like everything was going on in Fleury and it never seems like luck will turn...Until it does.
- And at the other end, Tristan Jarry is making his own luck. He’s been solid so far. But again in this game, much like Jarry’s first, it hasn’t really been that difficult — the team in front of him has been tremendous for him so far. All they need is a steady, capable goalie to be consistent and keep the pucks in front of him that he should be keeping in front of him. So far, so very good for Jarry, which deserves praise considering how last season ended. It doesn’t look like that goalie has come back for this season, a huge credit for his preparation and ability to turn the page.
- Further, Jarry has allowed just one 5v5 goal against so far this season in two games (and it was in garbage time tonight). That’s huge. You’re probably not going to lose in the NHL if you’re not giving up barely anything at even strength, and Jarry and the defense have been very stout so far as a five-man unit out front of the goalie.
- Mike Sullivan, now the winningest coach in Penguins history. Fitting he earns that off another great effort with Crosby, Malkin and Rust all unavailable.
Another great game for the Pens, they’ve got seven more games in a row coming up at home — where they are traditionally a very strong team. Add in the fact Sidney Crosby is one game closer to making his return and it’s tough to not be very optimistic about how Pittsburgh is looking early this season. There’s obviously a long, long way to go, but given circumstances, a 2-0-1 start is impressive. And the way the team has played to get that result is perhaps even more encouraging.