You really couldn't have asked for a better start of the season if you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. First they go on the road to a place they were tortured in the playoffs last season and get a close win and the next night they travel to New York and play a Rangers team that many picked to win the East and they went in their barn and just dominated play from start to wins en route to a 6-3 win. Thanks to a Rangers loss yesterday and a Flyers loss earlier today the Penguins are now four points up on both teams after only two games. While it is only two games and a lot of things can happen in a condensed schedule any time you can get a pair of road wins against the top two division opponents you take it and run. Really there wasn't much to be upset about if you are a Penguins fan. They came out and took a 1-0 lead on a James Neal power play goal just under two minutes in for the second straight fast start in as many games. The Rangers did get their own power play goal on a 5-on-3 about halfway through the period and then played some good puck possession hockey for a few minutes but after that it was all Penguins. Tyler Kennedy found the back of the net at the 15 minute mark and then almost four minutes later Matt Niskanen scored for a two goal leading heading into the intermission. The second period was all Pens all the time. It was the most dominating period of hockey that I have seen by the Penguins in some time and if they kept a time of possession statistic I don't think I would be out of line by saying the Pens controlled play for about 75-80% of the period. They added another power play goal off the stick of Pascal Dupuis and it was really over at that point. James Neal got on the board (again) at the start of the third period and while the Rangers got the deficit to two with just over five minutes left I don't think they ever really had a chance. Kris Letang finished the game with an empty netter. Tomas Vokoun got the start tonight and was pretty good despite giving up three goals. As I have said a few times before he missed a good chunk of last season due to a torn groin so this was his first playing time in about ten months. He is a big guy in net and is a lot different than Marc Andre Fleury as he is much more of a standup goaltender but made some really big saves. The best part of the game for him came right after the Rangers tied the game at one. The Rangers brought a lot of pressure but you would have never known as Vokes was calm and made big save after big save and his offense rewarded him. He saved 12-of-13 shots in the first and then only faced nine shots in the second and by the time the third rolled around it was all over. I talked in my preseason preview about how if the Penguins really wanted to make a run at the cup they were going to need some roll players to step up and supplement the scoring. That happened yesterday and it happened today as Dupuis and Kennedy played really good hockey again and they scored the goal that really gave the Penguins a nice cushion. Kennedy continued his strong play from yesterday and while he only got around 13 minutes of ice time he scored a goal and looked really strong on his skates. If you look at the score sheet you are going to see that Sidney Crosby only had one assist and won only 6-of-21 faceoffs but he really had a pretty nice game. He was making solid passes and his vision is just off the chains. It is hard to really put into words why I thought Crosby was good tonight but if you watched the game then I think you know what I am talking about. He draws a lot of attention and he makes everyone else around him better. and that won't show up on the score sheet. You can tell Crosby is ready to break out and when he does watch out. How good is Neal? Ray Shero should be thrown a parade for getting Neal from the Stars for Alex Goligoski and also getting Niskanen as a throw in. Neal's release is just ridiculously good and when you talk about gifted shooters you have to include Neal as one of the best. He now has three goals and while you are going to hear a lot of Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Claude Giroux/etc. for the case of MVP you might want to keep Neal in mind. He doesn't get quite the attention but he is coming off a 40 goal year and is off to a really hot start. He gets power play time and when teams focus on Malkin and Crosby that is going to let Neal settle in the soft spots and just pick his spots. You didn't really hear Malkin's name too much and some might say he had a quiet night but he assisted on three goals and was labeled the number two star of the game. It is pretty funny when you can say that. The defense did another outstanding job tonight and Paul Martin was really good again. He had a few turnovers early but settled down and is playing really well with Brooks Orpik as the shutdown pair. Speaking of Orpik, he is playing so noticeably better this season you have to wonder if getting the lockout time to rest really helped him. The past couple years he has had a few hernia surgeries and it looked as if he was on his way out but the first two games we've seen the old Orpik where he is stepping up and giving some crushing hits and playing good defensive hockey. Love to see it. A guy that is really interesting to watch is Simon Despres. He is young and is kind of being thrown to the fire and you can tell. He doesn't look quite that comfortable and he most certainly has his ups and downs but he is learning. He is going to be really good when he figures it out he is going to be a huge asset for the Penguins. He had the third lowest minutes on the team with 10:41 of ice time. If the Penguins aren't going to give him regular minutes I would rather them maybe dress seven defensemen but maybe this was just a beginning of the year thing to get him comfortable. The Penguins were not very good in the faceoff circle either. They did a really nice job against the Flyers but tonight they won only 27-of-63 faceoffs. As I said Crosby didn't have a good night and Joe Vitale and Brandon Sutter were the only two Penguins over 50% on draws. One good game and one bad game aren't anything to hang your hat on and I am sure it will stabilize but while it didn't hurt the Penguins tonight because of the fast offensive start it will kill them if they can't win draws. I don't expect them to be bad because I can't imagine Crosby only winning 29% of his chances all season.
Same song as last night. It is very early in the season. The Rangers had a good bit of turnover from last season and with only a little bit over the week to work you really saw that tonight and last night with the New York team. The Penguins are pretty much the same team from last year and I think that is helping them early. I expect the Rangers to be much, much, better as the season goes on but getting this win is something the Penguins needed. The Pens only play one division game in the final nine games of the season so a lot of the division games are going to come early. If there is a tight race they aren't going to be able to gain four points in one game so when they have these games they need to win as many of the points now so they don't have to worry about it later. Wins on the road in Philadelphia and New York aren't easy to do, especially in back-to-back nights, but that is waht this team did and that is good.
It is still an extremely small sample size but the Penguins are 2-0-0 and that is pretty awesome.