Big win for the Penguins as they opened up the season in Vancouver with a 4-3 shootout win over the Canucks. Matt Cooke netted a pair of goals and James Neal got on the board for the first time this season to carry the Pens.
The Penguins got off to a really strong start and scored the first two goals of the game in the first 13 minutes. The Pens got the first power play of the game about five minutes in and two things happened on the power play that we didn’t see much of last year. Those two things were scoring a power play goal and James Neal scoring. It was a pretty weak goal for Roberto Luongo to give up as Neal was nearly behind the goal line and just threw it on net as it squeaked by Luongo. Whatever. Get the puck on the net and good things happen.
Another unlikely guy got on the board in the first period as Matt Cooke scored a really nifty (who uses the word nifty anymore) power play goal (!) after Pascal Dupuis fed the puck in front on a saucer pass and Cooke batted the puck in mid air in the back of the net. Money.
As bad as the Luongo goal was when Neal scored Fleury gave up a softy in the latter stages of the first period off the stick of Max Lapierre. It was almost exactly like the one that Neal scored in that Lapierre was around the goal line near the corner boards and just threw it on net. The puck beat Fluery on the short side but didn’t go in right away, rather it kind of sat on the goal line and when MAF went to find it he kicked it into the net. Not good.
The Penguins got a quick on in the second period as Matt Cooke again got a special teams goal, this time on the first penguins penalty kill of the night. No idea what Luongo was doing on that one. Keith Ballard tallied his first goal of the season and brought it within a goal with just under three minutes left in the third period. Again Fleury was beat short side as it looked like he might have been off his angle a little bit but any time you leave a player open in the slot (which Ballard was pretty open there) they are going to have a good chance of scoring.
Daniel Sedin finally showed up after almost two and a half periods of floating around as he scored on a delayed penalty call on Paul Martin. Really tough as Fleury made a couple of nice saves while the Nucks had an extra attacker but Sedin got the puck in the slot all by himself and just picked the short side corner and tied the game.
Nothing doing in overtime as each team traded chances. Shootout. MAF was top notch and Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin made Luongo look absolutely foolish. Ballgame.
-What a huge goal for James Neal to have to start the game. With that he equaled his goal total from the regular season last year with the Pens. I think the dude was really starting to feel the pressure a little bit since he was expected to come in and be a goal scorer and he just really struggled last season. Besides the goal Neal really had a nice night. He was all over the ice and had a ton of energy and really looked good. He didn’t really look that great in any of the preseason games but that just goes to show what I say about any preseason games that go on in any sport, they don’t mean much. If Neal can keep up stuff like this then he could possibly have a scary good year.
-Evegni Malkin was almost the opposite of Neal tonight. While he did some nice things it wasn’t the same Geno that we saw during the preseason. I think you can really tell that Malkin still has a ways to go as he was visibly getting frustrated during the game and took a foolish elbowing penalty in the second period. I am not too worried about Geno, it is only one game and he still did some really good things tonight. The chemistry he seems to have with Steve Sullivan and Neal is encouraging so I would just chalk this up as an average game.
-Although MAF gave up three goals he really had a strong opening game. Much was made of his really poor start last season and he came out this year and played a really strong game. The first goal he gave up was a softy but he more than made up for it with some spectacular saves. He robbed a few goals and you can tell that the agility and quickness is there and he was pretty aggressive in challenging shooters. As he gets more comfortable in game situations this year that should settle a little bit and hopefully we are going to see the MAF that finished last season and not the one that began it as we proceed in the early part of this season. So far so good.
-The Penguins defense was pretty solid tonight and they blocked a ton of shots. The defense alone blocked eight shots and the team blocked 17 total. Engelland didn’t play his best and Lovejoy wasn’t great but I am not sure what to expect in the first game of the season from your number three defensive pairing. They were playing against a pretty damn good Canucks offensive team and were able to get points out of it so how can I complain? Letang had a pretty rough start to the game but played much better in the latter half of the game.
-So, um, what a game for Matt Cooke, huh? Two goals tonight, one on the power play and one short handed. This was his first game in some time after the suspension and I hope everyone that said that he was just a cheap shot artist and had no hockey talent were watching the game now. He is a top tier penalty killer and both goals that he scored tonight were pretty impressive. Matt Cooke is a talented hockey player so hopefully he stays on the straight and narrow like he said he was going to. I think it could be a really nice year for him.
-Overall there isn’t a ton you can take from this. Any time you can start the season off with two points against the reigning Western Conference champions then you take it. The Penguins had good energy tonight and they were really sharp early. Even with no Sidney Crosby it was good to see the Penguins come out and have some offense, especially on the power play. Keeping this all in mind it is just one game of 82. The Penguins aren’t going to go 82-0 and it is a marathon, not a sprint.