In a complete contrast from last springs playoff series, the Pittsburgh Penguins (1-0-0) and Philadelphia Flyers (0-1-0) played a close scoring game and the Penguins came out on top with a 3-1 win over the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in the regular season opener.
James Neal, Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz all scored goals in the win.
FIRST PERIOD DOMINANCE IN FACEOFF CIRCLE
The Penguins came out of the gates extremely strong, were the quicker team to pucks, came at the Flyers on the forecheck, but it was the Penguins ability in the faceoff circle in the first period that had them up 2-0 at the end of the first intermission.
Late on an opening power play just minutes into the game, Brandon Sutter won a clean draw in the left faceoff dot, winning the puck back to Matt Niskanen and a Paul Martin shot was deflected by Tyler Kennedy past Ilya Bryzgalov at 4:40 of the first period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. The goal was credited to Tyler Kennedy but might end up going to Paul Martin once the league looks at it.
Less than three minutes later, the Flyers would be burned in the faceoff dot again, this time by Evgeni Malkin who won a clean draw in the left faceoff circle back to James Neal who sniped it past Byrzgalov to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh was dominant in the faceoff circle in the first period as Sidney Crosby won 7 of 9 faceoffs, Evgeni Malkin 3 of 4, including 2-for-2 in offensive zone faceoffs and Brandon Sutter was 4 of 5 on faceoffs in the period.
Game Highlights via NHL.com
MOMENTUM TURNS EARLY IN SECOND
Pittsburgh was 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in the first period but the Flyers picked up their play late in the period and Claude Giroux scored 23 seconds into the second as the Penguins had a defensive breakdown by Chris Kunitz who failed to identify Giroux driving to the net and Scott Hartnell made a perfect saucer pass over Paul Martin and we suddenly had a 2-1 game.
The Flyers carried all of the momentum through the second period but the Penguins went to the intermission still holding a 2-1 lead.
PENGUINS, FLEURY SHOW ABILITY TO DEFEND LEAD
Putting a strong focus this week in camp on defending a lead and locking down in the neutral zone, the Penguins played stout defensively at even strength but a Deryk Engelland interference penalty behind the play on Wayne Simmonds put the Flyers on the power play with 5:33 left in the third period.
The Penguins new look penalty kill, though, came up big with another kill, but the penalty kill would be tested again as an Evgeni Malkin high sticking penalty with 2:27 left in the third period put the Flyers on the power play again. Yet again, Fleury shut the door on the Flyers power play and a Claude Giroux tripping penalty with 1:02 left in the third period , halted the Flyers man advantage. Chris Kunitz would add an empty net goal sealing the win for Pittsburgh.
Overall, the Penguins were 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in the game.
The biggest storyline out of this game is the Penguins were able to defend a lead, something they struggled at mightily late last season and Marc Andre Fleury getting off to a hot start is also big. Fleury made 26 saves, earning his 22nd win vs Flyers and 227th win of his career, a franchise record. This was a good character win for this group.
The Penguins face the New York Rangers tomorrow night at MSG.
Tidbits: Paul Martin had 2 assists in the win…… Pittsburgh went 2 of 3 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in the win…….Dustin Jeffrey got the nod as the 4th line center, making Joe Vitale a healthy scratch….Tomas Vokoun will start in goal vs Rangers tomorrow night….Kris Letang led the Penguins with 27:03 of ice time….
MIN Receives: Victor Rask
CAR Receives: Nino Niederreiter
Trade Buzz: Thursday’s 1-for-1 trade of young underperforming players saw the Minnesota Wild acquire center Victor Rask from the Carolina Hurricanes for left winger Nino Niederreiter. Carolina did an excellent job of being able to get out of the Rask contract, who has three years remaining with a $4 million cap hit. Rask has 1 goal, 5 assists on the season, mirrored in a 22-game goal drought. The logic here for Minnesota is taking the chance on a playmaking center who can help fill a top-9 spot longer term if the Wild move on from Eric Staal. Minnesota is also playing the card that a change of scenery will benefit the 24-year old who posted a career-high 21 goals, 48 points in 2015-2016.
Niederreiter’s trade value was stunted because of his contract, where he has three years left on his deal with a $5.25 million cap hit. Niederreiter is a player who is extremely hard to play against, drives possession well, and has three 20 goal seasons over his last four full seasons. Injuries (18 goals in 63 games) kept him from a 4th straight 20-goal season in 17-18. The Niederreiter acquisition also sets up as great insurance for the Hurricanes if they can’t resign Micheal Ferland. In the short-term, Carolina’s center situation is a mess with Jordan Staal sidelined with a concussion, but they’re getting the better player who fits the identity they’re trying to establish upfront, especially on the wings where they’ve identified the need for Patric Hornqvist type players.