Well, you couldn’t ask for a better start to the regular season if you’re the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The injury to James Neal aside, this was a picture perfect start to the 2013-14 campaign.
Neal left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury and will be reevaluated.
Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular, Olli Maatta was solid in his NHL debut and the Penguins found a way to break through the Devils’ trap to secure two points in the standings.
Perhaps what was most impressive to me was the amount of support the Penguins forward were providing in the defensive zone. The forwards were circling deeper in the zone and helping to insulate Fleury.
This would also be known as, “everything the Penguins didn’t do in the playoffs,” but we don’t need to rehash that.
According to NHL.com’s stat sheet, the Penguins were credited with blocking 23 shots last night. Matt Niskanen led the way with five blocks.
Fleury wasn’t tested much early in the contest, but the pressure ramped up in the third period with the Penguins holding on to a 2-0 lead. The Devils started to pick up the pace and had plenty of sustained attack time, but Fleury stood tall.
Three big saves come to mind from the third period – the incredible behind-the-back glove save, the penalty shot stop on Adam Henrique and a sprawling right pad save on Ryan Clowe who thought he had a sure goal.
The key for Fleury last night was that he was calm and composed in the net. You didn’t see him lose his net or be in full scramble mode. He was in great position and when that happens, he’s going to make a lot of saves.
It’s also worth noting that the 27-save shutout came in his 250th NHL win.
Maatta made his NHL debut tonight and I question whether or not this kid is 19-years-old. The poise and composure he showed against the Devils was that of a guy who has been in the league for a few years.
If you left the game or turned off the television last night and said to yourself, “I didn’t really notice Maatta out there tonight,” that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Sure, he looked a little nervous for his first couple of shifts and he even admitted as much. However, he settled in and turned in a solid defensive performance. There were a couple of mistakes, but he showed no panic and was able to recover quickly.
Will he remain in Pittsburgh beyond the nine game mark? I don’t necessarily think so unless something drastic changes from a personnel standpoint in the defense corps. There’s just not enough room.
But, if he plays this well or better over the next eight games, it could make the decision a little more difficult for Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero.
Speaking of debuts, Chuck Kobasew made his regular season debut with the Penguins and continued his preseason success.
Aside from driving the net to cash in on a rebound to open up the scoring in the contest (also a shocking concept), Kobasew was doing the little things in all three zones.
Kobasew finished the game with four hits and two blocks to go along with the eventual game-winning goal. If that’s the kind of game Kobasew is going to bring to the re-invented third line, I’m all for it. Every time he stepped on the ice, good things happened.
The only issue I had last night was how the Penguins seemed to take their foot off the gas a little bit for parts of the second and third period. Part of that could be attributed to playing against the Devils and their trapping style. However, the counter-attack goal by Craig Adams to seal the deal was a reminder of the depth this team has.
One game is in the books and two points are in the bank. Next up - the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center.
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