Pens Take Home Opener 3-2 (SO)

Alex Ovechkin, the face of his franchise, was the fourth shooter for the Washington Capitals in the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 shootout win.  He had a chance to tie the shootout after Phil Kessel had scored for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury had allowed 2 goals on 3 opportunities, which is uncharacteristic of him.  Ovechkin tried to go backhand, and Fleury denied him.

Similarly, in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, when Ovechkin had a chance to put his team up 1-0 at home on a breakaway against Fleury, Fleury flashed the leather, stole the momentum, and the Pens would win in dominant fashion, 6-2.  The Penguins would go on to win their 3rd Stanley Cup.

Similarly, last year, Ovechkin and the Caps failed to knock the Penguins out of the playoffs despite winning the President’s trophy while boasting the Rocket Richard and Vezina trophy winners Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby respectively.  The Penguins would go on to win their 4th Stanley Cup.

He was never going to score, and I knew it.  Everyone in that sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena knew he wasn’t going to score as he skated in on Fleury with a new Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters.

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As a result, the Penguins would take the first game of the 2016 regular season 3-2 against their division rivals Washington Capitals in a shootout.

The beginning of this game was an extremely special one for both the Penguins and the fans.  Mario Lemieux received a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd.  Sidney Crosby, despite not playing in the opener due to a concussion, dressed in uniform and skated onto the ice during the team introduction while hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.  The players then gathered around and watched their hard work in 2016 become solidified forever in the rafters of PPG Paints Arena with the raising of the Stanley Cup banner.

Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived for the Penguins.  Chris Kunitz had a breakaway in the game’s first minute, but whiffed on the puck thanks to a defensive stick play by Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov and never really got a good shot off.  The Capitals then took off the other way. Nicklas  Backstrom made a great pass to youngster Andre Burakovsky, just beating Trevor Daley who sprung Burakovsky on a breakaway.  Unlike Kunitz, Burakovsky buried the shot five-hole on Fleury just before a minute had expired, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead.

Later in the period, Tom Kuhnhackl was chasing after a dump in and ran into Caps goalie Braden Holtby.  The Capitals did not like this, but Tom Sestito stood up for his teammate and got in a scrap with Capitals enforcer Tom Wilson.  Sestito won the fight convincingly and brought some energy to the Penguins’ bench and crowd.

With about 13 minutes left in the 2nd period, Tom Sestito of all people had a chance to tie the game and be the first Penguins’ goal scorer of the 2016-2017 season, but Holtby made a brilliant save, stretching out his left pad to deny Sestito on a near wide open 4×6.

Just minutes later, the Penguins had their first powerplay opportunity of the year, and they didn’t disappoint.  Letang corralled the puck at the point and just wristed a quick shot on net.  The puck was deflected past Braden Holtby by none other than Patric Hornqvist.  The goal was reviewed as Holtby and the Caps believed Hornqvist touched it with a high stick, but there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the call, and the Penguins tied the game at 1.

With just over a minute left in the 2nd period, the Capitals were trying to exit their own zone.  Orlov fired a pass up to Oshie who attempted to direct the pass up to another teammate.  The only issue was that Conor Sheary read the play like a book.  He stole the directed pass from Oshie, kept the puck in the zone, and passed it up to Malkin who was still deep in the zone who had a one-on-one with Holtby.  Malkin went to the backhand and put one off the post, but the puck then hit off of the back of Holtby’s pad and into the net, and the Pens had their first lead of the game.

At the end of the 2nd period, Justin Williams took down Malkin hard behind Braden Holtby and received only a 2 minute minor penalty.  Williams wrapped his arms around Malkin’s neck/throat area and slammed him into the boards.  Fortunately Malkin seemed okay, but it was still an extremely unacceptable play from Williams.

The Capitals began pouring it on in the 3rd period, and they broke through with about 13 minutes remaining to tie the game at 2.  The Caps had a 3 on 2 into the Penguins zone, and Nick Backstrom dropped a pass back to Burakovsky, who one again beat Fleury by ripping a shot right above the pad and below the blocker of Fleury.

Despite exchanging quality chances in the rest of the 3rd period and overtime, no one was able to beat Holtby or Fleury, and so the game resorted to a shootout.

The Penguins elected to shoot first and went with Nick Bonino, who was denied by Fleury.

The Caps responded with TJ Oshie, who came in slow and ripped on 5-hole on Fleury to give the Caps the lead in the shootout 1-0.

Malkin was the next shooter for the Pens, and he made no mistake, ripping one top shelf glove side on Holtby and tying the shootout at 1.

Kuznetsov was the next shooter for the Capitals.  He also tried to go 5-hole on Fleury, but he was denied.

Letang then put the Penguins ahead 2-1, deking out Holtby with a fake shot and then went 5-hole for the score.

Fleury had a chance to win it if he could have stopped Backstrom, but Backstrom scored and kept the shootout going.

Kessel was the next shooter for the Pens.  He came in on Holtby and ripped one off of the right post on a vintage Kessel snap shot.  Originally it was called no goal, but upon further review, the puck hit the right post and then the back bar before coming out.  As a result, the Pens took a 3-2 lead.

Ovechkin then had the chance to keep the shootout going and, well, you know what happened.  Pens take this one 3-2 in the shootout.

Impressions

  • The Penguins, despite not having Crosby or Rust in the lineup, found a way to beat the defending President’s Trophy winners who boasted a healthy lineup.
  • Malkin is historically so much better of a player in terms of point production when Crosby is out. He stepped up his game once again and recorded a goal and an assist as well as a shootout goal.
  • Eric Fehr looked really good. He didn’t score but he hit a goal post and had a few great chances with his linemates.  He’s healthy and ready to go.
  • Despite letting in the first shot he faced, Fleury looked absolutely spectacular, registering 39 saves in his team’s 3-2 win.
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