The day we have all been waiting for is officially here.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will open up the regular season on the road against the Vancouver Canucks tonight.
It will be a special occasion as the Rogers Arena rafters will be adorned with a new decorative piece in the form of a second place banner.
Sorry, the banner will obviously commemorate their Western Conference championship last year.
A recent post on the Canucks’ website draws the parallel to the Penguins of 2008 and 2009.
The Penguins fell to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 only to bounce back and claim the Stanley Cup against the same Red Wings in 2009.
Vancouver is looking at that blueprint as they try to erase a summer of what ifs and a lost opportunity on home in in Game 7 with the Cup on the line.
I can see where the comparisons would be drawn. However, the Canucks were the top team in the league last year, Pittsburgh was not in either 2008 or 2009. Vancouver had a 2-0 series lead over Boston, whereas Pittsburgh fell behind 0-2 on both occasions against the Wings.
When Pittsburgh won, Marc-Andre Fleury put the team on his back for gutsy wins in Games 6 and 7, whereas Roberto Luongo suffered a third degree burn on his neck over the final two games of the 2011 Finals.
Anyway, the season begins tonight with these two teams squaring off.
Most of the players that got the Canucks to their first Finals since 1994 are back, but there are some injury woes to begin the season.
Most notably, Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler are out for extended periods of time and will not play tonight.
Despite that, the Canucks still have the Super Twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It doesn’t really matter who the third guy on the line is because he is going to put up points by default. That’s a fantasy hockey tip for you.
Just look at Anson Carter’s numbers from the 2005-06 season for proof. He put up 33 goals, 22 assists that year. The next year, he split time with Columbus and Carolina and only amassed 11 goals and 17 assists before bolting to Europe the following year.
Daniel won the Art Ross Trophy last season with 104 points (41 goals, 63 assists), while Henrik won it in 2010.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Stop The Twins
When the Sedins are rolling, so are the Canucks and the Penguins will need to keep them in check tonight to raise their chances of leaving Vancouver with two points.
Crash The Crease
If the Bruins taught us anything, it’s that Luongo doesn’t like traffic in front of him. No goalie does, but he folded like a lawn chair when the big Bruins forwards were crashing the crease.
That’s where the Penguins will have success tonight. James Neal is the guy I’m looking to, to create havoc in front of Luongo.
Another key for the Penguins will be their power play. While impressive in the preseason, it will need to carry over into the regular season to make everyone forget how woeful it was last year.
Shoot The Puck
When facing one of the game’s current elite goaltenders, no shot is a bad shot.
Putting pucks on net in any situation will need to be the emphasis. You never know what will happen when that puck gets to the net. Just ask Neal about his overtime game-winner against the Bolts this past spring.
Fleury struggled along with the rest of the team through the season’s first month a year ago.
Despite that, he managed to put up mind-boggling numbers from November through the end of the season, finishing with a 36-20-5 record with a 2.32 GAA and .918 save percentage.
There’s no reason to think he can’t better those numbers this season and he will have to be sharp tonight while facing a potent Canucks lineup.
The puck is set to drop at 10 p.m. and you can watch the game on Versus.
In the words of “Badger” Bob Johnson, “It’s a great day for hockey.”
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.
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