|End this forsaken city-wide scoring drought? Make it so.|
The Pittsburgh Penguins commenced their 2015-2016 regular season with a highly-anticipated showdown with the Dallas Stars. Both the Penguins and Stars are teams built to skate up and down the ice with skill, and Thursday night's opener showcased 3 of the past 4 Art Ross Trophy winners in Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Dallas won both spirited meetings last year, beginning with the Stars handing the Penguins their first loss of the season by scoring twice in the final three minutes of the game to prevail 3-2. The Pens then couldn't return the favor during a March showdown, losing 2-1 despite significant last second pressure.
|"Thou art welcome." (photo credit to Paramount Pictures)|
Gone is Craig Adams (...thank God), Paul Martin (...dammit), Brandon Sutter (...thank Buddha), Christian Ehrhoff (...meh), and M. Bison himself, Steve Downie (thank Thor).
The Penguins still employ the services of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, David Perron and Olli Maatta, which is great...
...but the Penguins still trot out Rob "The Piece" (of crap) Scuderi on defense.
Outside of Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh's most anticipated additions are Russian Sergei Plotnikov, Bobby "Tasmanian Devil" Farnham, and Dutch rookie Daniel Sprong (who made the team against all expectations).
The Pens would scratch fan favorite Pascal Dupuis (lower body injury), as well as off-season acquisition Eric Fehr (also injured).
First Period Action:
|"Communism is just a red herring," said Martin Mull|
Unfortunately, Dallas would score first...
....and it would be Mattias Janmark, in front of the net, with the redirect.
Janmark's tally would be his first goal on his first shot during his first shift (sound like anyone we know?), but that singular similarity to #66 aside, Janmark was able to beat Fleury in large part because David Perron failed to lift Janmark's stick on the backcheck.
The two teams would then exchange a series of uninspired possessions, with neither team mustering much in the way of a scoring chance (Beau "Frosted Tips" Bennett whistled a wrister wide that set in motion Janmark's goal at the other end). Chris Kunitz was the inadvertent recipient of an offensive zone shot block, and skated to the bench in obvious distress, but was able to return.
In what I can only pray is a sign of things to come, Evgeni Malkin drew an interference penalty (cue "Hallelujah Chorus"), and Pittsburgh's touted first power-play unit took the ice.
|Yes, this. Thank you, Quinhagak, Alaska!|
With Crosby on the right wing board and Kessel occupying the left circle, the Pens' PP1 was able to set up one Crosby-to-Kessel one-timer, but it was easily turned aside.
Following a series of Dallas Stars blocks (their penalty killers were simply collapsing in front of netminder Antti Niemi), the penalty would end with Pittsburgh still trailing by one.
Dallas seemed content to try and expose the Penguins' defense with repeated stretch pass attempts, but outside of one puck that skipped toward Fleury (requiring the Pittsburgh goalie to slide out and deflect the vulcanized rubber away), the tactic didn't yield any scoring chances.
The aforementioned anchor (in the "dragging the Penguins down" sense) Rob Scuderi almost gave Dallas a 2-0 lead when Scuderi gave the aforementioned Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn a breakaway following a heinous turnover.
Fortunately, as Benn skated left to right and tried to go 5-hole (between Fleury's legs), he angled the shot wrong and the puck skipped harmlessly to the corner. Following a flurry of Dallas possession, the horn would sound ending the first period with the Stars leading the Pens 1-0 in goals, but trailing in shots, 10-4.
Second Period Action:
The teams entered the long change period (both teams had to skate further to make a line-change as they had switched defensive ends of the ice) with the Stars looking to resume the pressure they applied on the Pens at the end of the first stanza.
Following a deflection that eluded Fleury and struck the post, the Penguins backstopper was leveled by Brian Dumoulin (he was pushed into his own goalie by Dallas's Patrick Eaves), but #29's "gumby knees" (thanks, Bob Errey) kept him from injury.
|Note to self: "Gumby" searches yield some awful things.|
Center Nick Bonino (acquired by the Penguins as part of the Brandon Sutter trade) took a hooking penalty at the 5 minute mark, putting the Stars and their elite power-play on the ice.
Alas, it wouldn't take long for the Dallas PP to connect, as Ales Hemsky shot the puck off-stride while using a defender as a screen to put the Pens down 2-0.
Off of the ensuing faceoff at center ice, Ian Cole stepped up, and following a quick Dallas chip, the Stars had a 2-on-1 scoring chance that Fleury closed off to keep the game tight.
Pittsburgh was given another chance on the power-play following an Alex Goligoski high-stick. Niemi made a nice crossing save on a Chris Kunitz one-timer, and then had the presence of mind to smother the puck on the ice with his pads.
The Pens would actually give up two odd-man chances to the Stars (Pittsburgh's defense kept the rushes to the outside, thus limiting the danger), and despite a few shots on the sharp Niemi, the score remained 2-0 through the game's halfway point.
Letang denied yet another Dallas 2-on-1 a few minutes later, and the wayward wrister wrapped around the boards to a streaking Kessel, whose shot eluded Niemi's blocker but caught the upper shaft of his goaltending stick before caroming out of play.
With 6 minutes left in the period, Fleury lost his stick during a scramble, and a Tyler Seguin backhander barely missed the far post. Then, when Sprong lost the puck during an awkward Penguins 4-on-3, Fleury cut down the angle (skated closer to the shooter from the goal line) and negated a John Klingberg scoring opportunity in the slot.
The Pens' second line of Plotnikov/Malkin/Hornqvist nearly broke through against Niemi, as the trio was able to initiate an extended cycle and Hornqvist's patented crashing of the net nearly spun the puck into the net.
Dallas nearly made the game 3-0 following one of the worst passes in Crosby's career: the Penguins' captain was approaching the offensive blue line and, noticing that all of his teammates were stationary, attempted...
...okay, in total honesty, not sure what Crosby was trying to do. The end result was an immediate turnover and scoring chance for the Stars since, as I indicated above, all of the Pittsburgh skaters were stationary and had trouble getting back into their own end.
The period would end with the Pens still winning the shot battle (23 to 15) but trailing where it matters most— the scoreboard— 2-0. Worthy of mention is the play of Olli Maatta, who looked poised and in control during one of the (many) Dallas odd-man rushes.
Third Period Action:
The Penguins entered the third period trailing by two goals, and despite their edge in shots on goal, the Dallas Stars enjoyed the better scoring chances.
Kessel almost cut the deficit in half when he one-timed a Crosby backhanded pass at Niemi, but the former San Jose Shark stopped Kessel cold.
Rob Scuderi actually prevented a goal when he sprawled out behind Fleury and swiped the puck out of the defensive zone during a penalty kill (Beau Bennett was sent off for holding).
|No! I said MATT Cullen! MATT!!|
Malkin had a short-handed scoring chance (head coach Mike Johnston appears determined to use both Crosby and Malkin on the PK this season) that barely missed, and Crosby/Kessel nearly connected again before newcomer Matt Cullen was sent off to put Pittsburgh shorthanded once again.
The Pens got an absolute GIFT when Dallas was given a strange penalty to put the two teams at 4-on-4 (negating a Stars goal in the process).
Almost immediately, Kessel and Crosby had successive scoring chances, but neither player could elevate the puck up and over Niemi, who continued to shut the Penguins down.
Malkin would then get on the score sheet— albeit for high-sticking— when he was whistled off for a negligent follow-through.
The Penguins' PK unit would kill off the penalty rather easily (Pittsburgh's penalty kill was definitely a team highlight), but then the Pens couldn't exit their own end for nearly a minute.
Ian Cole would then exit the ice following yet another high-sticking call, and Dallas went back on the power-play for the fifth time.
Seconds later, Rob Scuderi flubbed a clearing attempt (I've done myself the favor and just highlighted and copied that line for certain future use) and Jamie Benn scored his first of the year via deflection and the proverbial rout was on (3-0 Stars).
|Coming Soon...to a theater near you. Rob Scuderi loses a nuclear bomb,|
and it's up to George Clooney's hair & Nicole Kidman's frozen forehead
to prevent global disaster in Dreamwork's "The Piecemaker."
With the Pittsburgh Penguins doing their best impression of the Pittsburgh Pirates (...yeah, I went there), the only solace for Pens fans would come in the form of the Philadelphia Flyers losing in OT to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Pens pulled Fleury with 2:45 left to go, and with the extra skater on the ice, Pittsburgh called on their Captain Planet line of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Hornqvist and Kunitz to try and break Niemi's shutout.
Alas, it was not to be, and following an amazing save in the final 30 seconds, Niemi recorded his second straight shutout against the Penguins (the last shutout was as a member of the San Jose Sharks).
Really not much for the Penguins to hang their proverbial hat on outside of the chemistry between Kessel & Crosby.
Final score: Dallas 3, Pittsburgh 0. Pittsburgh outshot Dallas 32 to 24.