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Penguins/Blackhawks Recap: Pittsburgh comes up empty in opening night loss

The Pens take a 2-0 lead but then...Uh oh, it goes off the rails in the first game of the season and Chicago walks out with a 4-2 win

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


Jake Guentzel completes an expeditious return from a summer ankle surgery to make it into the lineup for opening night lineup for the Penguins that features eight new names following a big offseason of change.

The Blackhawks are excited to start the season as well.

First period

Crosby and Bedard lineup for the opening draw. Let the record show the first action of Bedard’s NHL career was losing a faceoff.

Chicago gets the first power play when Lars Eller heads to the box for goalie interference. The Hawks get some zone time but can’t score. Soon after getting out, Eller hits Kris Letang with a pass. Letang finds the stick of Bryan Rust for a deft redirect up and over goalie Petr Mrazek to open the scoring this season for the Pens.

Pittsburgh then gets their first look at their power play but it doesn’t get much traction.

Shots end up 17-13 in the first period. Tristan Jarry stood tall to stop a few chances from in tight late, including one on Bedard looking for his first goal.

Second period

Jeff Carter makes his presence known by blatantly grabbing the stick of an opponent and taking his first penalty of the season. The Pens kill it off but Chicago starts to gain momentum and tilt the ice with six of the period’s first seven shots.

The Pens got back into it with their first line stepping back up. Guentzel wired a beautiful cross-ice pass that caught Mrazek out of his crease. Crosby was able to quickly fire it into the open cage. 2-0.

Chicago felt the sequence was offside earlier when Marcus Pettersson attempted to keep the puck in the blueline. It was close but no camera saw the whole puck completely cross the blue, goal stands. The Blackhawks also picked up a minor for delay of game but the Pens couldn’t blow the game open by capitalizing on the opportunity.

That would come back to bite the Pens, Chicago made a play in the offensive zone and Ryan Donato out-leveraged Marcus Pettersson in front and tucked one in past Jarry to get the score to 2-1.

Reilly Smith got a good look for a shot all alone after a nice Evgeni Malkin pass caught Chicago in a line change, but Mrazek was able to make the stop.

Shots in the second period were 14-10 Pens.

Third period

The Pens got in penalty trouble early when Matt Nieto took an offensive zone hooking infraction. It was killed off but then Letang was the next to take the trip after Tyler Johnson went down mighty easily on a cross-check.

A failed clear gave Corey Perry the puck all alone in front but Jarry was up to the challenge to keep the lead in tact.

Crosby fed Guentzel for a beauty of a scoring chance, but the shot dented the post.

With 9:55 to go, Cole Guttman found a soft spot in the zone and rifled a shot short-side to tie the game at 2-2.

Guentzel’s next golden opportunity was setup by an Erik Karlsson backhand pass, but Mrazek again had the answer. Guentzel lifted the shot and got a lot on it, but the goalie was able to snare it with the glove.

Bad luck then struck when on a rush Perry tried to shoot but it got blocked over to Jason Dickinson. Dickinson made a stab at a quick shot and the change of the angle was enough that Jarry couldn’t get over quick enough (unlike Mrazek as mentioned above) to get his glove on it. Chicago takes their first lead of the game at 3-2 with only 4:33 to play.

The Pens pull the goalie with two minutes left but it doesn’t pay off. Nick Foligno taps in an empty netter to make it 4-2 with 1:27 to go.

Some thoughts

  • Maybe we should have known when eight Penguins (including Crosby and Mike Sullivan) predicted Rust would score the first goal. They could have been playing the odds - ESPN pointed out this is the third straight season opener that Rust has scored a goal in - or just seeing something they liked from Rust in camp. They were right.
  • Pettersson got left on an island for the first goal, a possible first example of the Erik Karlsson adventures in the d-zone. Karlsson peeled up the ice marking Bedard to near the blueline, leading to a meltdown of the defensive structure back at the net.
  • Pittsburgh was working Chicago in the faceoff circle, to the tune of 70ish percent all game long. Crosby feasted on the Bedard matchup, shutting the rookie out in the first two periods and the addition of players like Eller and Acciari could give the Pens a very strong group of centers this season.
  • The Pens’ PK went 4/4 and did their jobs well, Jarry was sharp in those instances. Still some stuff to clean up with multiple players like Ryan Graves and Reilly Smith unable to make what has to be automatic clears.
  • Pittsburgh’s top line was their best. Guentzel was sharp in his return and very nearly had two goals in the third period alone. Rust was flying high after his early goal lifted confidence. Sidney Crosby as always was Sidney Crosby. Lots of good signs there.
  • Chicago had 73 shot attempts and about all their goals came from the rush, pulling back or finding a player space and then finishing. The Pens defense has some early season work to figure out coverages or mark better for dangerous zones. They got puck watching a bit at times or had some questionable decisions and it cost them.
  • Unfortunately the start of 2023-24 was a lot like last year: a blown lead, a power play not finding a way to score when called upon, a ridiculously unlucky bounce, an opposing goalie playing well, a lot of hallmarks of the past. It’s a bad feeling when taken into a bigger context but also one that it should be pointed out is a single gam and the first game.