The Pens encounter their first back-to-back situation of the season, which means the Pittsburgh debut of goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
It was a ref show in the first period, with both teams getting tripped up from some early season quick whistles that saw three Flames and two Penguins catch minor penalties.
The Pittsburgh power play went 0/3 but my goodness, you’ll probably never see a more encouraging or fun 0/3. Sometimes the power play is frustrating when it doesn’t work or just plain boring if it gets nothing going. In this one, between Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all getting quality chances, and Erik Karlsson pulling the strings to move the puck along, it’s more of a wonder that somehow Jakob Markstrom and Calgary kept it out of the net early on.
Guentzel got to the front but somehow couldn’t mash this puck into the net for a goal.
Jacob Anders Markstrom, TAKE A BOW! pic.twitter.com/rEY3cJ6G81— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 14, 2023
Shots in the first were 15-11 Calgary, goals were 0-0 but really it felt more like the Pens were generating the better of the chances.
Late in the period with Ryan Graves in the box for his second penalty of the game, Calgary finally opens the scoring. 20-year old Matt Coronato, Calgary’s 2021-first round pick, rifles in one of many opportunities the Flames get.
MATTY SCOREONATO'S FIRST NHL GOAL! pic.twitter.com/iAv3yV0zIL— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 15, 2023
Shots in the second are 11-5 Calgary but Nedeljkovic does well to hold the Pens within a goal and give the offense a chance to wake up.
And wake up the Pens do with two goals in the first 41 seconds of the third. First up, it’s Bryan Rust. Sidney Crosby generated a turnover and held the zone which led to a Kris Letang point shot. Rust had a bad angle but hacked the puck from a bad angle off Markstrom and in the net to give the Pens life.
The sudden change continued when Graves chipped the puck ahead and Rickard Rakell used the boards to do the same and Malkin and Reilly Smith had a 2-on-1. Malkin fed Smith, who slung the puck from distance on a pretty shot for his second goal in as many games. 2-1 Pens just like that.
A goal in the 3rd period last night.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 15, 2023
A goal in the 3rd period tonight.
Reilly Smith is on fire pic.twitter.com/zhCF6Y9ZL5
Pittsburgh stayed aggressive and scored off a set play from an offensive zone faceoff to extend their lead to 3-1. Crosby won the draw to Kris Letang, who had flipped over to the left side of the ice. Guentzel drifted back to the open wide side of the ice and Letang made a nice pass over to him for a quick shot that hit the net. 3-1, just like they drew it up.
THREE UNANSWERED GOALS FOR THE BLACK AND GOLD! pic.twitter.com/C4laNSF8Fq— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 15, 2023
With 5:46 left, Malkin supplied the dagger. Smith intercepted a pass to hold the zone and dropped the puck back for Geno. Coming off the right side with his left-shot seeing a lot of net, Malkin shot with authority to push Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1.
To their credit, the Flames didn’t go away quietly, they pushed for a goal and found it aftr a couple of weird bounces saw the puck end up in the Pittsburgh net and a goal credited for Jonathan Huberdeau. 4-2 with 3:55 to play.
Huby's first of the season! pic.twitter.com/k4pfZ3idyX— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) October 15, 2023
The Flames pulled their goalie in a last ditch chance, but Rust tacked on an empty netter after gaining the blueline and shooting it in to set the final at 5-2.
From center ice, it's BRYAN RUST (again!) pic.twitter.com/GRQ3hfD4KH— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 15, 2023
- Anyone who regularly watches the Pens over the last 18 years can probably point to exactly the moment when Evgeni Malkin is about to go into “Geno mode”. It usually happens when an opponent riles him up with a dirty play, and then he just blacks out and completely takes over. It was quite obvious to see that happen in real time tonight after Nikita Zadorov gave him some guff early on, Geno mode was activated. He was on a mission to score early on after drawing a penalty and not changing with the rest of the top power play after a long shift. Malkin by reputation or perception has the tag of starting seasons slow more often than not. That’s not the case at the beginning of this season with a game tonight with a goal, an assist, five shots on goal, eight total shot attempts and two takeaways.
- Very classy move for the Pens to honor Chris Snow on the jumbotron and donate the 50/50 raffle funds to ALS charity tonight. Snow, Calgary’s assistant GM, recently passed away from complications due to that nasty disease after a long battle. It’s great and well-deserved to see his legacy live on.
- Rust is well on his way to a season redemption with three goals in the first three games of this new year. After only scoring 20 in 81 games last year and leaving a lot on the table, it’s been a welcome turn of events.
- Nedeljkovic was sterling in his first game as a Penguin, stopping 34/36 and 31/21 at even strength. If you didn’t see him in the pre-season, you’re sure to gasp at all the times he leaves his crease to play the puck, but the good news is that he’s pretty good at skating and then moving it. And he was good at stopping it tonight too.
- It was a shame the Pens didn’t get a power play in the second or third period, it was looking really great tonight. Didn’t score, but brings some hope that with these types of looks that they are figuring out how to get there.
- The Pens have now blown a third period lead this season and also won a game while trailing going into the third period. The portion of the fanbase that blames Mike Sullivan for all so-called third “quarter” issues sadly jostles in the corner waiting to emerge on another day.
After playing three games in the first six days of the season, the Pens earn a little break with a few days off before going on the road to see Detroit on Wednesday night. After a performance like this and with momentum building, they might just wish that game was a little sooner in order to try and keep the good times rolling.