What. A. Game.
The Penguins got a thrilling 3-1 road victory over bitter rival Philadelphia at the hostile Wells Fargo Center in their 2012-13 regular season opener. Defeating cross-state foe Philadelphia is always satisfying for the Penguins, but what makes this win even sweeter for Pittsburgh is that the Flyers eliminated them from the 2012 playoffs.
“It feels great,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said with a big smile.
Fleury made 26 saves, earning his 227th career win to surpass Tom Barrasso and take sole possession of first place on the Penguins’ all-time wins list.
Tyler Kennedy and James Neal both scored in the first period and Chris Kunitz added an empty-netter with 11.2 seconds left in the game to ice the victory. Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers.
Before Saturday, the Penguins last played NHL hockey in April, 2012. After most of the players went months without competitive game action because of the work stoppage, Pittsburgh had just a week of training camp to prepare for a shortened regular season. But despite all of that, Pittsburgh couldn’t have drawn up a stronger start.
The Penguins dominated the first period of play, outplaying the Flyers and keeping them on their heels. The Penguins won faceoffs, foot races and puck battles and were especially strong in the offensive zone, working as a five-man unit to keep play moving. The Penguins also killed off three Flyers power plays in the first period of play.
But the Flyers regrouped after the first 20 minutes and came out flying to start the second period. The pace of the game’s remaining 40 minutes was incredible. The game flowed fast and there were few whistles; both teams kept play moving and created scoring chances.
Even with two more Philadelphia power plays in the last 5:33 of play, the Penguins held off the charging Flyers to start the season with a mark in the win column.
FLEURY SETS RECORD
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury opened his ninth season in a Pittsburgh uniform by becoming the winningest goalie in franchise history.
He made 26 saves on 27 shots to earn his 227th win in a Penguins uniform on Saturday, passing Tom Barrasso to take sole possession of first place on Pittsburgh’s all-time wins list.
"It’s flattering," Fleury said of the accomplishment. "I think it shows I’ve played with a lot of good teammates and good players. Tom Barrasso was a guy I always looked up to. To pass him is an honor for me."
Fleury admitted to feeling some anxiety entering Saturday after such a long layoff between games, and pointed out aspects of his performance he wants to improve. But overall, he was pleased with the way the evening turned out.
"I was a little worried," he said. "The last time I played was so long ago. Happy, though, that we played a solid game for 60 minutes. Overall, I just tried to go out there and stop the puck and not think too much about anything else."
Fleury was solid throughout, but was especially strong when the Penguins were shorthanded. The players always say their goalie must be their best penalty killer, and he was just that against a dangerous Flyers power play on Saturday.
More on Fleury’s record here
The Penguins have spent a lot of time during their weeklong training camp working on special teams. That due diligence turned out to be invaluable on Saturday.
The Penguins went 2-for-3 on the man-advantage and killed off all five Flyers power plays – including two within the last 5:33 of play with the Penguins holding a 2-1 lead. That’s especially meaningful considering the success Philadelphia had on the power play during the 2012 playoffs.
"We made some minor adjustments systematically and I think that helped out a lot," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think just coming in and having a fresh mind and clean slate after last year (was important). Last year really snowballed on us and we lost our confidence. We just started doing things we didn’t normally do and went from being the best penalty kill in the regular season to completely collapsing in playoffs. Hopefully this gives us some confidence, especially in this building and against this team, and we just keep building off that."
Philadelphia used essentially the same unit they did in the postseason, utilizing an umbrella formation with Kimmo Timonen quarterbacking, Giroux and Jakub Voracek on the walls and Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell in front of the net.
The Penguins primarily used their shutdown defensive pairing of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin while shorthanded with a changing mix of forwards. Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Brandon Sutter, Tanner Glass and even Sidney Crosby all contributed.
With 5:33 left in the game, Deryk Engelland was called for interference. The Flyers created some mad scrambles, chaos and hairy moments in front of Fleury, but the goalie and Pittsburgh’s PKers managed to keep them off the board (with Adams producing an especially monstrous effort during one scary sequence).
Philly got another chance with 2:27 left as Malkin was penalized for high sticking. The Flyers pulled goalie Ilya Bryzgalov for a 6-on-4 advantage, but Kris Letang produced two big clears for the Penguins and even drew a penalty. That resulted in Kunitz’ empty-netter, which came with Giroux in the box for tripping.
Pittsburgh’s power play first struck less than five minutes into the game with Braydon Coburn off for interference. After the first unit of Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Letang moved the puck around nicely and created decent scoring chances, the second unit of Sutter, Dupuis, Kennedy, Martin and Matt Niskanen converted the man-advantage with just seven seconds left.
OFFENSIVE ZONE FACEOFFS
The Penguins dominated the faceoff circle on Saturday, especially in the first 20 minutes as they scored two goals off the draw in the first period.
The first came on the power play just 4:40 into the game, when Sutter won the puck cleanly back to Niskanen. Niskanen quickly slid a pass across to Martin, who immediately let a shot fly. Kennedy had gone straight to the front of the net, and the puck deflected off his stick and past Bryzgalov to get Pittsburgh on the board first.
The second came less than three minutes later on another faceoff on the same side of the ice. On this one, Malkin swept the puck back to Neal stationed behind him to his right. Neal wound up and fired it into the back of the net to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.
After the first period, Crosby was 7-2 (78 percent), Sutter went 4-1 (80 percent) and Malkin was 3-1 (75 percent). They had a 17-10 total edge in faceoffs over Philadelphia after the first period. Overall, Pittsburgh finished the game with a 35-27 (56 percent) advantage on faceoffs.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo