During the first game of the season after the lockout I really didn't expect for either team to play very well. Although a lot of players skated during the lockout and some even played overseas I just didn't imagine that there was going to be a ton of continuity and sharpness in the game. Well, I was pretty much right today as both teams were a little sloppy with the puck but if you expected a high scoring game then you were in for a huge surprise as the Penguins skated away with a 3-1 win and one of those goals was an empty netter with only a handful of seconds left. The defense was there (for the most part) the goaltending was good and it was physical. All told it was a great hockey game to watch and there wasn't even a fight!
The best period of hockey the entire game by either team was the first period for the Penguins. They were all over the Flyers and held an 11-6 advantage in shots and those six shots included three power play opportunities for the Flyers It was as dominating of a period as you could have asked for.
If you guessed that Paul Martin was going to open the scoring for the Penguins then you were one of the few that weren't being sarcastic. Martin got the scoring started on the Penguins first power play of the season at the 4:40 mark. Broad Street Hockey got a clutch gif of the goal as it was originally credited to Tyler Kennedy but was switched at the second intermission.
The Penguins second goal was about as vintage as it gets. I guess you can call it the James Neal play as Evgeni Malkin won the face off and got it back to Neal in the deep slot and he beat Ilya Bryzgalov for a 2-0 lead that would turn out to be the game winning goal. The Penguins didn't score the rest of the game but the defense was able to shut the door.
Claude Giroux got a goal in the first couple of minutes of the second period and if that didn't give you an amazing uneasy feeling then you didn't watch the Penguins at the end of last year or in the playoffs. It is so nice sitting back and reflecting on teh game that the Penguins were able to hold on in a tight game as the view of the Penguins going into the season was the goaltending and defense was shoddy at best.
Here are some thoughts:
-There were a lot of good things in the game but I think it all starts and ends with Martin. He wasn't named a star after the game but I would imagine if you asked anyone they would say that Martin was the number one star in the game. In his two years with the Penguins he has been very up and down. He was pretty good in his first year with the Penguins before just having a brutal season last year. Although this was the first game of the season he looked comfortable and in charge which gave him a two point day. I guess he is in the running for the scoring race.
-The loss of Jordan Staal was a tough one but everything that I have seen from Brandon Sutter has been nothing less than outstanding. He was a huge part of the Penguins PK going a perfect 5-for-5 and he was just a pest in the Flyers side all day long. He won't show up on the score sheet with any points but he logged over 17 minutes of ice time going against the top line of the Flyers (when possible). It is going to be fun to watch him play this season. He isn't Jordan Staal but he showed that he can get the job done just as well, so far.
-Another whipping boy for Penguins fans over the last few years has been Kennedy. I am not a huge fan of him but he played an outstanding game today. He was getting into the corners fight for pucks and even threw some pretty big hits in open ice which was pretty surprising to see. He looked quick on the ice. Hopefully he can keep that energy up because that third line is already good and if Kennedy can play better hockey than last year it can be a dangerous line.
-Marc Andre Fleury was worlds better than he was last season. He only faced six shots in the first period and looked a little stiff but as the game went on MAF only got better. He did give up a goal to Giroux that was a pretty nice play thanks to pretty bad plays by Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz but after that Fleury was on point. In the last seven minutes of action the Flyers got two power play chances and Flower was there to shut the door both times. There were some nervous moments in those power plays but Fleury doesn't make those saves at the end of last year.
-For as much as we expected from Malkin it was really a scattered game from him. He was all over the ice for the first half of the game creating turnovers and making things happen but he wasn't as good as the game went on. Granted, the Flyers did a really nice job of locking him up but as one of the best players in the world it would have been great to see a few more scoring opportunities. This really isn't a criticism as much as me building up what he was going to do in the first game.
-The first period was outstanding but the second period wasn't very good for the Penguins. They got a little careless with the puck and turned it over giving the Flyers some opportunities but the defense, and MAF, was there to bail them out. They were much tighter in the third period but it was a little bit of an up and down game. This was the first game of the season with some new players on the team and only a handful of practices so I guess I am not really sure if this is something that is going to continue going forward or not. I guess we will see.
-Eric Tangradi was bad. Like, really bad. When he was around the puck things just didn't happen. He wasn't particularly able to keep up with the pace of play on the second line and a few times he was on the ice with Crosby and it just made him look slower. I know I have hated on Tangradi in the past but he hasn't shown me anything that has proved that he should be in the lineup on a consistent basis.
-One thing that was a breath of fresh air was the Penguins got back to winning faceoffs. Overall the Penguins won 35-of-62 of them and each of Crosby, Malkin and Sutter were over 50%. That was a problem down the stretch where the Penguins were getting a lot less possessions but that wasn't the case today. With offensive zone faceoffs you want to control the puck and give yourself scoring opportunities and the Penguins did that. Sutter was pretty good on faceoffs today and with him being in a PK/shutdown roll winning faceoffs is a huge advantage.
-Last thing is while I have talked about all the good things (and some bad) that went on today you have to keep things in perspective. This was only the first of 48 games and when you talk about small sample sizes there isn't much more small sample size than one game. Martin could go out and play the worst game of his career tomorrow and Tangradi can go out and net four goals so while we are high/low on those scenarios today they could totally flip tomorrow. With the shortened season it is more of a sprint but things still need to be put in perspective.
Feels great getting a win. With the Penguins not playing many divisional games over the last 15 games getting division wins now is very important. Going on the road in Philadelphia and getting two points is really big. Don't sit on it for long though because the Penguins get the Rangers in like ten minutes.