ON THE PENGUINS OPENING NIGHT WIN VS ANAHEIM
Mike Johnston has done a great job at getting his players to execute and buy into his system immediately and that was on display in the Penguins opening night 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks. It’s far from a perfect system as the Penguins were vulnerable to giving up high quality chances and that’s likely to be a continued trend, but when it comes to executing how the Penguins want to play under Johnston, they passed their first test.
The Penguins set the tone early, possessed the puck and dictated the pace 5 on 5. Pittsburgh had 60 shot attempts to the Ducks 48, including a 47-34 advantage 5 v 5. Pittsburgh exploited the Ducks with controlled entries, a staple of Johnston’s system. “Our gaps were so bad,” Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards.
At the forefront was Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta. A lot of the focus has been on Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff when it comes to projecting as very good fits in Johnston’s system and it’s been Maatta who has fallen somewhat under the radar. Not anymore.
Maatta shined with 3 assists (2 primary assists) and the combination of finding players in space off the breakout and activating off the rush and in the offensive zone was as good as it gets from Maatta.
The Penguins got off to a roaring start and the tone was set by the Penguins top line of Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist. The trio came out buzzing and looked like a line that had played together for years. The Penguins immediately fed off their energy, most notably Sidney Crosby who had 2 goals and 1 assist in the win.
“We have a lot of new faces, you’re always excited to play the first one, but especially with so many new faces, I think we used that energy to our advantage,” Crosby said after the win.
Boudreau said afterwards the Ducks let Crosby get away from them.
“He was the catalyst,” Boudreau said. “He’s a guy we were supposed to focus on, and we let him get away with it.”
A key storyline out of the win was none other than Pascal Dupuis. He posted his first four point game since 2004 with a goal and three assists. Dupuis said afterwards getting those two preseason games in were big for him. “For me, those two games in the preseason were huge,” Dupuis said. “I knew what to expect, knew how hard it was going to be. Obviously, the level went up a couple of notches for the first game.”
Dupuis four points is a nice story but his impact was bigger than that. Dupuis ability to track the puck carrier and create space with his speed was really on display and an element maybe the Penguins missed more last season than realized.
Leading 4-3, Blake Comeau’s goal with 1:32 left in the second period was a back breaker for the Ducks. Dupuis was the catalyst picking up his third point of the game on the goal. Down low in the Penguins defensive zone, Dupuis swarms Patrick Maroon who turns the puck over and Dupuis quickly leads the rush the other way in just an excellent executed play.
Dupuis speed to get down the ice on the rush exploited a tired Ducks top line and Olli Maatta would make a great feed to Blake Comeau for the goal.
It was a complete 200 ft game from Dupuis and a minute into the third period while shorthanded, Dupuis speed and awareness to cover space would lead to Brandon Sutter’s shorthanded goal as Dupuis forced a Ryan Getzlaf turnover in the neutral zone, than got to the loose puck and hit a streaking Sutter for the goal.
Dupuis impact on those two goals and that type of element he brings, is what the Penguins missed the most last season and those attributes he brings are more important than him having his best game statistically in over 10 years.