The NHL season has officially started and the Pittsburgh Penguins got off on the right foot with two wins over division rivals.
All in all, you can’t really ask for a better result this weekend.
On Saturday, the Penguins marched into Philadelphia where their playoffs came to a crashing end last spring. However, this time the Penguins showed up to play and earned a hard-fought 3-1 victory.
Philadelphia looked a little sluggish to start the game and the Penguins pounced with goals by Tyler Kennedy and James Neal in the first 7:20.
My only complaint from this game was the Pens gave the Flyers too many chances to get back into the game by taking too many penalties.
During their playoff series, the Flyers scored at will on the power play. To their credit, the Penguins’ penalty killers did a great job and killed off all five power play chances for the Flyers.
A big reason the Pens skated away with two points was Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 26 saves in the win. He was also named the first star of the game.
To me, this was about him coming out and reestablishing why he’s the top goalie in town. He was admittedly shaky during their playoff loss to the Flyers, but he was calm, cool and collected on Saturday.
It’s also worth mentioning that with the win, Fleury now holds the franchise record with 227 career wins.
Even with the Flyers coming with everything they had late in the game in an attempt to tie it up, the Penguins stuck to their guns and held them off.
Eventually, Chris Kunitz filled the empty net to seal the deal.
On Sunday, the Pens kept it going against the Rangers and pretty much put the game away in the first period.
Any thoughts of their being a letdown after an emotional win in Philadelphia went out the window almost immediately.
Neal ripped a shot by Henrik Lundqvist on the power play just 1:48 into the first period to give the Pens the early lead.
The Rangers would counter about 10 minutes into the period when Ryan Callahan found a rebound in front and beat Tomas Vokoun.
From there, the Penguins took control.
Tyler Kennedy cleaned up a rebound on a drive to the net by Joe Vitale to put the Pens up 2-1. Later in the period, Sidney Crosby won a draw back to Matt Niskaken whose wrister deflected off a skate and behind Lundqvist to give the Pens a 3-1 lead heading to the first intermission.
In the second, Pascal Dupuis finished off a brilliant display of passing on the power play to chase Lundqvist from the net.
The Pens set up shop in the Rangers’ end for most of the period, but were unable to add to the lead.
In the third, the Penguins looked to get a little complacent even with Neal burying his second goal of the game just over five minutes into the period.
The pace of the game seemed to slow and the Penguins appeared content to just run clock. As a result, the Rangers added two goals of their own to make the game interesting.
However, Kris Letang took control of a loose puck in the defensive end and with the goalie pulled at the other end, rushed up ice and scored from the red line to ice the game.
For the most part, the Penguins played two very solid road games against division foes and came away with four points and the division lead.
The play was sloppy at times, but that’s obviously going to happen when you haven’t played a competitive game for almost nine months.
There were some bright spots and unexpected performances in these two games. Most notably, Paul Martin was an absolute stud this weekend.
Martin has never looked better in a Penguins sweater than he did this weekend. He was always in position, tying up sticks and making good first passes out of the zone.
All three of those things rarely happened a year ago. Granted it’s still early, but if this is a sign of things to come, look out.
I’m still convinced his shot from the point against Philly did not touch Kennedy’s stick before it got behind Ilya Bryzgalov. Regardless, Martin recorded three assists this weekend in addition to his stellar defensive play.
Update: 10:45 a.m. – Martin has officially been given credit for scoring the first goal of the season for the Pens. I wonder how this impacts the Pens’ text predictor contest…
It’s also worth noting that Kennedy was a monster this weekend too. Aside from his two goals, he was everywhere on the ice. It was just a really good performance from both Martin and Kennedy this weekend. Hopefully, it keeps up.
However, it wasn’t all good.
Eric Tangradi was just plain awful for most of the first five periods of play this weekend. He started out on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, but didn’t stay there long.
Early on in the first period against Philly, Tangradi was replaced by a revolving door of other wingers on that line.
The same held true against the Rangers last night. However, he did turn in some solid shifts toward the end of the second period and had a good third period against New York.
It’s certainly possible that this is all just part of the learning curve, but like I said in a post before the Philly game, I don’t think the Penguins will wait long to put someone else on that line.
In previous stints with the Pens, Tangradi was mostly playing third or fourth line. Now, he’s playing with two guys who combined for 90 goals and 190 points a year ago, so there’s really no excuse if he doesn’t contribute.
The shortened season could work against him as well because there’s no time to wait. In an 82-game season, the Penguins could give him a longer trial on that line. That’s likely not the case in a 48-game season.
Many, including myself, questioned why Joe Vitale was a healthy scratch against Philadelphia. Dustin Jeffrey assumed the fourth line center spot and had a game I’m sure even he would like to forget.
Jeffrey committed several bad turnovers in the defensive end and had to be bailed out by Fleury or other teammates.
Vitale was back in the lineup on Sunday and was tremendous. Again, maybe Jeffrey is just shaking off the rust, but that performance left a lot to be desired.
Goaltending depth was obviously an issue last season. With Vokoun on board, the Penguins have two capable number one goaltenders.
Vokoun played a very good game against the Rangers and had to battle to make a lot of saves through traffic. In the end, he turned aside 31 shots to earn the win in his Penguins debut.
The Penguins will now return home on Wednesday to take on the Maple Leafs, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Saturday.
All in all, it was a great weekend for the Pens and is hopefully a sign of things to come.
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