-Aside from a little fray known as the 1996 Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins and Panthers don't have much of a history as rivals. They've mostly played an endless of string of ho-hum meaningless regular season games with little impact on anything of consequence in the 20-plus years the Panthers have been in existence.
-That was not the case tonight as the Panthers and Penguins butted heads repeatedly in a contest which saw a combined 76 penalty minutes and 60 minutes of pretty entertaining hockey which resulted in the Penguins escaping with a 3-1 win at Consol Energy Center.
-First, all the penalties. It started innocently enough when Scott Harrington was given two minutes for high sticking Aleksander Barkov at 7:15 of the first but from that point on, there was a pretty steady march to each penalty box. Anytime the Penguins dared venture towards the Panthers net, the Panthers took exception and made sure the Penguins knew it. Any perceived trespass of goaltender Roberto Luongo's personal space was met with plenty of shoves, punches and even in one instance, use of a helmet as a weapon. We can't recall the Panthers ever putting up this much fight to crease crashers, at least during Penguins games.
-Look at all these penalties:
-Willie Mitchell and Kris Letang drew fighting majors during a crease crash by the Penguins which resulted in Mitchell ripping Letang's helmet off and swinging it back at Letang. It appeared to strike Letang and/or a linesman who was trying to break up the fight. No word if the NHL will consider supplemental discipline.
-After that, Steve Downie could be seen screaming at the Panthers bench using a series of words which rhyme with "puck." Following a double high-sticking minor by Erik Gudbranson against Sidney Crosby, Downie challenged Gudbranson to a fight at center ice. Gudbranson may have won the fight on points - he landed a few overhanded punches - but Downie won the hearts of the crowd at Consol Energy Center when he ended the fight by tackling Gudbranson to the ice. The linesmen tried to break them up while they rolled on the ice but Downie kept going after Gudbranson and eventually created a sandwich with linesman Derek Amell serving as the meat. Downie was escorted to the dressing room while mocked Gudbranson's high advantage (6-foot-5 to Downie's 5-foot-11) and then pointed at the Panthers bench again. And on Dec. 20, 2014, Pittsburgh Penguins fans chanted "Down-EEE! Down-EEE!" to their one-time nemesis."
-Considering he used to be greeted with "Downie Soft" signs from the F balcony at the Civic Arena, it's safe to say Downie's popularity in this city has changed.
-If you didn't see Downie's ... interaction ... with Gudbranson, here you go:
-Downie ended up getting 17 minutes in penalties, including a 10-minute misconduct for trying to fight Gudbranson after their altercation was essentially over. He now has 135 penalty minutes which is tied with Richard Zemlak for the 75th highest single-season total in franchise history. It took Zemlak 31 games in 1989-90 to accomplish that feat. Downie needed 32. What a slacker.
-Downie is only 43 penalty minutes from breaking into the top 100 career totals in franchise history. With five games before Jan. 1, he could do it before the New Year.
-Getting to actual hockey, the Penguins got some big contributions from a re-tooled third line of Downie, Marcel Goc and Nick Spaling. Spaling scored the first goal off a crazy knuckle puck which glances off the stick of Gudbranson then the glove of Roberto Luongo and then the right post. It was a bit fluky but Spaling will take it. Downie and Goc got assists.
-For Goc, it was only his third point of the season. He obviously hasn't produced much offense this season but he's been playing with the likes of Craig Adams and Zach Sill must of the year. Playing with Spaling and Downie is like playing with Richard and Bossy by comparison.
-With so many injuries and illnesses ravaging the lineup as of late, Spaling had been pressed into a top-six role for much of the past month or so. While he was hardly a liability, he wasn't exactly a great asset in that role. Tonight, he seemed a lot more comfortable on the third line. He had two assists and a nice offensive zone steal in the third period which created a nice scoring chance in tight.
-Mike Johnston agreed Spaling is probably a better fit for the third line:
"[Spaling] is the type of player that is really good defensively. He's a guy that's is a complimentary guy anywhere he plays. So, when he's playing the top two lines, he's a responsible forward that can chip in. When he's playing in a checking role, you know that he's safe and solid and he kills penalties. So, can he play up top? Sure. He's done it in the last few weeks but he probably is more of a player that is suited for a typical checking-type line."
-Derrick Pouliot looked really good in his first NHL game. He was pretty smooth. There were a few mistakes such as a turnover here or there but that is kind of the complete package with him. He's a gambler much like Kris Letang. Considering it was his first career game, he looked pretty confident and in control most of the night. And the shot he scored on was an absolute later past the glove hand of a pretty good goaltender.
-Courtesy of Penguins broadcaster, Pouliot became the seventh player in franchise history to score a goal in his first career shot. The list is as exclusive as it is varied:
|Marc Chorney, D
||March 17, 1981
|Steve Gatzos, RW
||Feb. 3, 1982
|Mario Lemieux, C
||Oct. 11, 1984
|Rob Brown, RW
||Oct. 21, 1987
|Aleksey Morozov, RW
||Oct. 1, 1997
|Brian Gibbons, RW
||Nov. 18, 2013
|Derrick Pouliot, D
||Dec. 20, 2014
-Brown actually scored on his first two career shots.
-Pouliot was paired primarily with Rob Scuderi and they seemed fairly comfortable with one another. Pouliot had 15:07 of ice time on 21 shifts. He also had 2:29 of ice time on the power play. He had one goal on two shots and blocked one shot.
-The Penguins had four young defenseman in the lineup in Pouliot, Simon Despres, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin. They responded well under pressure from a Panthers team which played a pretty aggressive game and dominated the puck for quite a bit of time tonight.
-That's where Marc-Andre Fleury came in. He stole quite a few goals tonight and with the Penguins nursing a 2-1 lead at the start of the third period, he rejected several quality chances as his teammates were struggling to keep up. Fleury was arguably the Penguins' best player once again tonight.
-Sidney Crosby scored his first goal in eight games tonight and celebrated like he was shouting at Odin in Asgard. He looked very relieved.
-Crosby got slashed on the hand a few times by pest-like center Dave Bolland and even left the game for a stretch of the first period. He came back with tape wrapped around his right hand. He seemed to try to cover it up with a towel while talking with media in the postgame but it was visible when he declined to shake hands with Lemieux citing his hand. There was no word on the status of his hand.
-Bobby Farnham managed to avoid the penalty box and even drew two penalties tonight, an interference minor from Brian Campbell and a cross check from Bolland. Farnham keeps finding way to contribute.
-Chris Kunitz looked okay in his return. Nothing spectacular. He didn't hesitate to go to the net at all. He had 19:18 of ice time on 21 shifts, one shot and two penalty minutes.
-The Panthers were pretty impressive. They just couldn't finish much against a hot goaltender. They'll be trouble Monday when these teams meet in Florida.
-This was our first chance to see Aaron Ekblad, the first overall pick in this year's draft, in person. He was legit. He looked very confident for a first-year player at a position which usually isn't as easy to learn at the NHL level as forward. In the third period, Evgeni Malkin had a two-on-one with Patric Hornqvist against Ekblad. Ekblad read Malkin's pass and broke it up a little bit with the blade of his stick. That forced Hornqvist to fire a poor shot which Luongo stopped easily.
-Upper St. Clair's Vince Trocheck played his first professional game in Pittsburgh and looked pretty good. He had a ton of friends and family in the building tonight - 60 to 80 by his estimate - and they didn't have to look hard to notice him. He scored his team's only goal on a beauty of a tip-in.
-Luongo was pretty solid. None of three goals he allowed were softies. The first one was a fluky triple deflection. The second was a perfect shot and the other was a tap in by the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner. Luongo had nothing to be ashamed of tonight.
-The Panthers led in shots on net, 46-34.
-The Panthers dominated attempted shots, 80-54.
-Crosby led the game with seven shots.
-Trocheck led the Panthers with six shots.
-Despite serving a fighting major, Kris Letang led the game with 26:30 of ice time.
-Brian Campbell led the Panthers with 23:56.
-The Penguins lead in faceoffs, 41-38 (52 percent).
-Goc was 11 for 17 (65 percent).
-Bolland was 11 for 16 (69 percent).
-Scuderi led the game with five blocked shots.
-Nick Bjugstad led the Panthers with three blocked shots.
-Crosby's goal made him the 150th all-time scorer in NHL history.
-Craig Adams was scratched from the lineup due to what the team claimed as an undisclosed injury. It snapped his consecutive game streak at 319. The last time the Penguins didn't have Adams in the lineup was a 5-1 road wina against the Flyers, Oct. 16, 2010. The lineup from that game:
-The Andrew Hutchinson era was intense.
-Speaking of intense, a few photos. The ice:
-Here's an artsy photo of a chipped-up goal post:
-Fans entering the barn:
-Brent Johnson had a fan on hand:
-This might be the first Nick Spaling jersey we've seen:
-It was a good night for No. 12. Ryan Malone:
-And Bob Errey:
-Lemieux had fans in Pittsburgh and Laval form:
-These Lemieux and Zarley Zalapski fans just need to meet up with a Randy Cunneyworth fan and they'll be set:
-We're not sure if the lettering here is accurate, but a Craig Simpson fan is always welcome:
-Jerseys of the Night: This was the only Panthers jersey we saw all night, but there were a lot of people wearing it. Vince Trocheck: