-Welcome to the first day of the Penguins' season. It was a short summer but it's always long if you're a hockey fan.
-The big question mark this season is and always will be Marc-Andre Fleury. After four mediocre to terrible playoff performances, it seemed like his time was up in Pittsburgh. The Penguins stuck with him, found him a new goaltending coach in Mike Bales. We think Fleury still has the skill to be an elite goaltender. But it's up to him to get the results.
-We're not sure if this is a new routine for him or not, but Fleury did not speak with media today. A team official was uncertain if this was a one-time thing or something he'll do throughout the season. We wouldn't be alarmed however. Former Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson, close friend of Fleury's, did not speak with the media on days he would get a start. Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, an all-star in this league, doesn't speak on game days either.
-On the morning of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Islanders last season, Fleury told a a hilarious R-rated story about the placement of the restrooms in the visiting dressing room at Nassau Veterans Coliseum to a Pittsburgh reporter and a team employee after the morning skate. Later that night, Fleury was beaten badly and repeatedly in a 6-4 loss. That would be his last start of the postseason as he saw Tomas Vokoun salvage the series.
-If he's going to declined to talk with the media on game days in order to be more focused and more prepared, we're all for it. He is one of the best members of this team in terms of media availability. Always affable and always willing to face tough questions, we have no problem with him taking occasional days off with us grimy media types if it means a better performance.
-Olli Maatta will make his NHL debut tonight and will presumably play alongside Robert Bortuzzo. We're really eager to see how both of those players play. As we've said in numerous mediums, Bortuzzo looks really confident. Additionally, he's very outgoing with the media. Before he was somewhat shy. We're not sure what this has to do with being an NHL player, but it shows us that Bortuzzo has a lot more confidence and even feels like he belongs in the NHL a little bit more.
-Maatta is just a smooth, unflappable player. He didn't panic and doesn't seem overwhelmed by the preseason. We'll see how he handles regular season game.
-The Penguins will start their pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup title tonight against a familiar foe, the New Jersey Devils. This foe will be even more familiar with Jaromir Jagr being added. Jagr is still a pretty good player at 41. He's definitely not the 100-point player he used to be but he's still capable of churning out a 20-goal, 50-point season. Expecting him to play 82 games might not be realistic given his age and recent histories of injury. He didn't even play in the preseason after all. But he can still contribute offensively. And at this stage of his career, he is revered in any dressing room. Much like the Flyers and Bruins players we've talked to the past two seasons, Devils players we chatted with this afternoon were in awe of him.
-Cory Schneider, acquired in a major trade from Vancouver at this year's draft, will get the start. We think Schneider and Brodeur are the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. With that and the additional depth they added this past offseason, we think they might be the second-best team in the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division. The Devils still have their structure in place and enough familiar faces with the likes of Patrik Elias and Andy Greene.
While Ilya Kovalchuk has left New Jersey, that not entirely a bad thing. The additions of Ryane Clowe, Damien Brunner and Jagr aren't in the same universe as Kovalchuk in terms of impact, but they can all pick up some of the slack in his absence. Instead of overworking Kovalchuk as they have in recent seasons, they can spread the wealth.
-Additionally, with Kovalchuk's considerable salary gone and the ownership situation settled, the Devils may have a little more financial flexibility to pursue a few additions at the trade deadline if necessary.
-We always say this, but Andy Greene is a marvelous but underrated player. He doesn't rack up impressive numbers or blow you away with any one skill. He just does everything well. If you can, pay attention to him tonight. He just seems to make the right play every time. He's similar to Paul Martin in that respect.
-We really like the Devils' fourth line of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. They did a lot of the dirty work for New Jersey during its Stanley Cup run of 2012. Last season, with depth issues, that trio served as a third line and wasn't nearly as effective. If their minutes are limited and they preform more tradition fourth-line duties, they are really effective.
-Some pregame photos. The barn:
-The Rich Pilon Statue:
-Mark Letestu still has a fan here:
-It's a goaltending-friendly crowd tonight. Fleury Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:
-Fans entering the barn:
-There are a handful of Devils fans present. Martin Brodeur:
-We'll suspend Jersey Fouls for any Pirates fans such as Andrew McCutchen enthusiast:
-The always rare Aleksey Morozov-Luc Robitaille combination:
-Down Town Robbie Brown:
-There will always be Jagr fans in Pittsburgh no matter how much he's booed:
-A complicated relationship:
-Normally, a Jock Callender jersey would be Jersey of the Night:
-But we have to go with Martin Straka, the man who carried the load for the Penguins in their 1999 Eastern Conference quarterfinal upset of the Devils:
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Matt Niskanen, Rob Scuderi and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Deryk Engelland and the great Joe Vitale.
-James Neal warmed up and is in the lineup.
-The Devils' starters are Damien Brunner, Ryane Clowe, Patrik Elias, Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky and Cory Schneider.
-Their scratches are Mark Fayne, Jacob Josefsen and Rostislav Olesz.
-Jeff Jimerson is on hand:
20:00: At 7:08 p.m., EDT, the Penguins' 2013-13 season begins with Crosby beating Elias on a faceoff.
19:00: Jagr carries the puck through the neutral zone and is booed for the first time.
18:18: Using Anton Volchenkov as a screen, Kobasew snaps off a tricky wrister from the blue line which Schneider fights off.
17:41: Stephen Gionta sneaks a wrister through traffic off the left wing. Fleury fights it off.
15:16: Off a nice neutral zone steal by Martin against Andrei Loktionov, Neal glides up the right wing and lifts a wrister on net. Schneider fights it off.
13:58: Bernier thumps Robert Bortuzzo with a strong hit inot the
13:46: Adam Henrique lifts a pedestrian wrister from the right circle on net. Fleury challenges and eats it up.
13:22: Tanner Glass steals a puck off Jagr at the Penguins' right point and pokes it up ice. He battles through a check by Jagr and gains the offensive zone. Glass snap off a wrister but Salvadors goes stick on puck and deflects it out of play.
13:20: On the ensuring faceoff, the Penguins attempt their "quick-draw" play. Evgeni Malkin wins the draw to Neal directly behind him. Neal fires a quick wrister. Schneider fights it off.
12:15: Volchenkov snaps off a wrister from the left point. It hits a skate in front and slides to the right wing wall. Peter Harrold jumps on the rebound and whips it on net where Fleury eats it up.
11:42: Orpik chucks a wrister on net from the left point. It hits Volchenkov who is sliding in the crease. Dupuis and Crosby battle for the rebound but Peter Harrold pokes the puck behind the net. Crosby pursues and recovers the puck then deals to Orpik at the left point. Orpik drives a shot on net which Schneider snags.
10:34: Welcome to Pittsburgh Chuck Kobasew. Lugging a puck through the neutral zone, Kobasew gains the offensive zone. He leaves a drop pass for Sutter at the right point. Sutter lifts a wrister on net. Scheider makes the save but allows a poor rebound. Kobasew drives to the cage and pokes the rebound through Schneider's five hole. That's Boston College on Boston College violence there. Sutter and Beau Bennett get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 1-0.
9:32: Loktionov leads a three-on-two rush up the right wing and attempts a cross-ice pass. Martin reads it all the way and pokes the puck away. What a defensive play.
7:59: Kunitz, on a backcheck, makes a nice steal off a poor pass in the Penguins' offensive zone by Brunner.
7:41: After a clearing attempt from his own end boards by Niskanen, Volchenkov fumbles the puck at the right point of the offensive zone. Dupuis plays it up to Crosby who ends up with it at the red line. Crosby gains the zone, has an acre of ice to work with and lifts a wrister behind Schneider's glove hand. Dupuis and Niskanen get assists. Penguins 2-0.
5:56: Off a little give-and-go passing at the left half wall, Malkin sneaks a pass from the wall to Jokinen down low in the right circle. Jokinen takes the puck on his backhand, moves to the forehand and attacks the net. Jokinen's wrister is denied by the stretched-out right skate of Schneider. Great chance and and even better save by Schneider. His team needed that badly.
4:37: Malkin gets his first penalty of the season as he is nabbed for high sticking Salvador. Dupuis, Rob Scuderi, Orpik and Crosby take the ice.
2:37: Two minutes later, the Devils did little with that offensive chance.
1:56: On a three-on-two rush, Michael Ryder takes the puck on the right wing. He is challenged by Scuderi and flings a wrister wide to the far side.
1:14: Getting a little space in the right circle, Kunitz snaps off a wrister to the far side. Schneider leans down and fights it off with his blocker.
0:04: Glass knocks over Salvador, New Jersey's captain, in the left wing corner of the offensive zone. Ryane Clowe a fairly large body at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, takes him to task. They drop the gloves and lock up. Clowe lands the majority of the punches but Glass (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) hangs in there. They tire out and head to their respective penalty boxes.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Devils 0.
-First things first. James Neal did not record a shift in the final 5:54 of the period and did not appear to be on the bench. There is no word on his status.
-So far so good. The Penguins were clearly the better team. They had the majority of scoring chances and controlled the puck most of the period.
-Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't tested a great deal but he looked pretty confident. He appeared to be playing a little deeper in the net than usual.
-Maatta and Bortuzzo were hardly noticeable ... and that's a good thing for a third defensive pairing.
-Maatta has 4:29 of ice time on seven shifts thus far.
-Glass had a solid period with a nice steal on Jagr to create a scoring chance. Additionally, his hit on Salvador and the ensuing fight with Clowe should help him endear himself to the fanbase a little more.
-Paul Martin looked really sharp with a few nice steals.
-It would be a stretch to say Jagr looked all that comfortable with Adam Henrique or Travis Zajac as linemates.
-The Penguins have a 12-6 lead in shots.
-Kobasew, Neal, Jokinen and Brunner each lead the game with two shots.
-Greene leads the game with 8:17 of ice time.
-Orpik leads the Penguins with 8:02.
-The Penguins control faceoffs, 16-9 (64 percent).
-Crosby is 9 for 12 (75 percent).
-Elias is 4 for 8 (50 percent).
-Niskanen and Orpik each lead the game with two blocked shots.
-Crosby's goal was the 666th point of his career and it came against the... Devils.
18:04: Using Maatta as a screen, Brunner snaps of a wrister fromthe left wing. Fleury fights it off.
17:15: Loktionov rips a wrister from the left wing. Bortuzzo blocks it. Loktionov snaps off a wrister of the rebound wide of the cage.
15:19: Off a faceoff win, Zidlicky pumps slapper from the right point. Jokinen blocks it.
15:11: Loktionov, Brunner and Bernier each have a chance in tight but Fleury denies them.
14:48: The Devils are generating a few more chances in tight. Brunner lifts a wrister from in tight on the right wing. Fleury says no.
13:58: Dupuis smashes Harrold into the boards in front of the Devils' penalty box and drops him.
12:36: Volchenkov golfs a slapper from the left point just wide on the near side.
11:59: Zidlicky bowls over Glass in the neutral zone.
11:23: Harrold tees up a slapper at center point. Bennett challenges and blocks the shot.
9:52: Bennett is on the right wing of the second line in place of Neal. Taking a nifty backhanded pass from Malkin in the neutral zone, Bennett gains the offensive zone with speed on a two-on-one with Jokinen. He elects to shoot and lifts a wrister which Schneider initially catches with his glove hand. Schneider bobbles the puck. He scrambles for the rebound and prevents it from entering the net.
9:03: The Penguins will get their first power play of the season as Zidlicky is called for hooking Sutter. Crosby, Kunitz, Jokinen, Martin and Malkin take the take the ice.
7:03: Two minutes later, the Penguins did little with that chance. They failed to record a shot.
6:16: Adam Larsson flings a wrister from the right point. Fleury eats it up. Clowe is a little too close for comfort and Fleury jabs him with a stick. Adams gives some grief to Clowe as well. Attendance is announced as 18,621. It is the team's 287th consecutive sellout.
6:28: After Gionta levels Maatta with a big hit in the Penguins' right wing corner, it looked like Crosby got away with an elbow on Gionta.
3:19: Salvador booms a slapper from the right point. Fleury fights it off.
2:56: With Fleury out of position, Carter has a chance in the left circle but shoots right into Fleury's legs. Fleury got a break there.
1:37: Fleury fights off a re-direction by Elias.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2 Devils 0.
-That was a pretty dominant period for the Devils. They controlled most of the play and generated a ton of chances.
-Fleury was tested that period and was up tot the task. That was a great 20 minutes for him.
-Still no Neal and still no word on his status. The Penguins tried a variety of players such as Bennett, Kobasew and Jeffrey get a shift or two on Malkin's right wing.
-Shots are even, 15-15. The Devils controlled shots that period, 9-3.
-Martin leads the Penguins with 16:15 of ice time.
-Greene leads the Devils, 15:37.
-The Penguins control faceoffs, 24-15 (76 percent).
-Crosby is 13-17 (76 percent).
-Zajac is 5 for 10 (50 percent).
-Niskanen leads the game with four blocked shots.
-Salvador and Elias each lead the Devils with two blocked shots.
-Maatta clearly does not need any hair gel:
20:00: Still no Neal and still no update.
17:20: Bernier lifts a wrister from a bad angle on the left wing. Fleury fends it off.
17:05: Off a rebound form an Elias shot, Larsson chops a one-timer from the right point. Fleury fights it off.
15:59: Volchenkov chucks A wrister form the right point. It hits a body in front. Ryder fights off a check and chops the rebound. It his blocked again.
15:27: Zubrus gives Sutter a shot from behind into the right corner boards. Sutter takes exception and appears to challenge Zubrus but Zubrus isn't interested.
14:30: A team official said Neal will not return. No official reason was provided.
13:32: Jagr pushes the puck up the right wing and is separated from the puck with a stiff shoulder check from Orpik.
12:51: Volchenkov chops a slapper from the left point. It hits a stick in the slot and deflects wide to the far side.
12:35: We get a hybrid icing for the first time of the game and it's a controversial one. The Penguins play a puck into the Devils' zone. Glass and Harrold race for it. It appears to be an even race to the faceoff dot but officials blow play dead and award the puck to the Devils. Glass protests vehemently. Dan Bylsma calls a time out to get a breather for his team.
12:05: Dupuis rips a wrister from a funny angle in the right circle. Schneider fights it off. Dupuis whips the rebound on net. Schneider denies that too. Crosby has a chance in the slot with the rebound but can't get a stick on it.
10:12: Orpik stands up Elias with a solid hit at the Penguins' bench just inside the blue line.
10:06: Fleury plays a puck from behind his net to the right wing corner. Elias and Orpik race for it. Just as Elias arrives, Orpik splatters him into the corner board. Oof.
8:50: Just as a while is blown, Clowe trips up Jokinen. Adams take exception and gives him some grief. Official break up the ensuing scrum.
8:18: Craig Adams...?!? Craig Adams. Push a puck into the offensive zone on the left wing, Malkin deals a pass to Adams above the left circle. With Glass driving to the cage, Adams snaps off a wrister by the right skate of Schneider. What a shot from an unlikely source. Malkin and Glass get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 3-0.
7:46: WOW..... A puck bounces around in the Penguins' right circle. Zajack is able to control it enough and swipes it off the near post. It hits off the post and deflects into Fleury's back. Fleury reaches backward and snags it with his glove almost blindly. Wow!
6:22: Fleury is taking over this game. After a dreadful turnover by Malkin from his own end boards to Loktionov in the left circle, Brunner has a chance in tight. Fleury challenges and eats up the puck.
3:59: A big moment here. Henrique drives to the cage while fending off Niskanen. Niskanen pretty much gives him a Heimlich maneuver on teh way to the ne and prevents a shot. Officials award a penalty shot. Fans stand up and cheer "FLERRRR-EEEEE!!! FLERRR-EEEEE!!!!!" Henrique takes the puck at center ice, slowly approaches the net and goes forehand. Fleury stretches to his right and holds it out with his right skate. The crowd explodes in noise and more "FLERRRR-EEEEE!!!!" chants rain down. What a moment for him.
2:27: Another big save by Fleury. Zidlicky golfs a slapper form the right point. it hits something in front. Clowe is able to settle the rebound in the blue pain and has Fleury dead to rights. He can't lifts the puck enough however by the right skate of Fleury who has it extended to the post. ANother huge save leads to more "FLERRRR-EEEE!!!" chants.
0:40: The smattering of fans remaining offer an appreciative "LET'S GO PENS!"
0:34: Glass is called for boarding behind the Devils' net against Larsson. Martin, Crosby, Orpik and Adams take the ice.
0:19: Martin makes a nice steal off Ryder at the end boards and flings the puck down ice.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 3, Devils 0.
-It's not a playoff game. It's not even a key game down the stretch in a battle for playoff positioning. A game in October, the season-opening game, only carries so much weight usually. But this one carried more weight than usual for Marc-Andre Fleury.
-In the face of brutally deserved criticism and questioning of his place with this franchise which was only amplified by the absence of Tomas Vokoun, he proclaimed to the world, he is unquestionably the Penguins' No 1 goaltender. After a fairly easy first period, he was bombarded by several scoring chances frp, the Devils in the final two periods. He got a bit lucky with a few and simply stole goals on several other chances. He earned this win and this shutout. More importantly he earned a lot of respect which was absence for the better portion of the past four months.
-Ultimately, this was just one regular season game. He won't truly defy his critics until the postseason. But this was a heck of a start.
-On Fleury's behind-the-back save against Devils forward Travis Zajac and his play in general, New Jersey's Jaromir Jagr said, "He was good today. No question about it. The fans let him know so he had the confidence. He had the one save [behind the back]… that’s going to be ESPN top ten for sure. He was lucky, he didn’t even know he did it."
-We were interested in how Fleury would be received tonight. He gave every person chanting his name a reason to so.
-On the injury front, Dan Bylsma said James Neal is sidelined with the same "upper-body" injury which has plagued him the past few days. He will have further evaluation tomorrow.
-Overall, the Penguins had a pretty incomplete game. They dominated the first period in terms of puck possession and offensive chances then were completely outclassed in that area the latter two periods. New Jersey had the bulk of offensive chances the final 40 minutes. If not for Fleury and a few bounces, this is a different game.
-We're not sure how much of that was by design though. The Penguins collapsed around their net quite a bit and didn't give the Devils too many clean looks at passes or shots inside the perimeter. It was a different look for the Penguins in that regard.
-One thing that didn't change was the Penguins' speed in the neutral zone. More or less, they generated all their goals from rushes through the neutral zone. Said Jagr, ""We just gave them too many odd-man rushes. They’re just waiting for you. You can’t not give it to them. They are waiting for their chances. They come in 100 MPH through the neutral zone."
-The Penguins mixed and matched a lot of combinations on Evgeni Malkin's line after Neal left with 5:54 remaining in the first period. Few seemed to really generate anything resembling a comfort level.
-Chuck Kobasew is turning out to be a really shrewd signing. He continued to look like a natural fit on this team and had a little chemistry with Brandon Sutter on the first goal of the game.
-Tanner Glass had a heck of a rebound game after a rotten first season in Pittsburgh. He had a nice steal from Jagr which led to a scoring chance. He smacked New Jersey captain Bryce Salvador with a nice hit and then took on a larger man in Ryane Clowe. Additionally, he made a nice play by driving to the net on a goal by Craig Adams. He recorded an assist on the score as well. It took him until game 41 of last season - a 48-game schedule - to pick up a point.
-Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were spledid as the shut-down defensive pairing. Martin was reading passes in the defensive zone and stealing pucks like a Wall Street banker. Orpik was very eager to hit some bodies in white.
-Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi had some mixed results as a pairing. They seem like they might need a few games to get comfortable with each other.
-Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo were very quiet... and as we said earlier, that's good. You don't want to notice a third pairing that much. Maatta seemed a little nervous at first but settled down as the game wore on.
-Maatta had 14:41 of ice time on 21 shifts. He recorded on shot and blocked three shots.
-There was little to say in regards to special teams. There were only three power plays - two for the Devils and one of for the Penguins. The Devils second power play came with barely half a minute remaining in regulation. Neither power-play unit was sharp.
-Cory Schneider was not sharp. He simply botched the rebound which led to Kobasew's goal. Crosby's goal, while it was shot by an elite player, was preventable. And the Adams goal was a backbreaker.
-Jagr did not seem all that comfortable with Henrique or Zajac. But that will presumably come with time. Jagr missed the entire preseason. This was their first game together as a trio.
-Ryan Clowe is going to be a very unpopular man in Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division. At least outside of New Jersey. He created a lot of havoc around the Penguins' net and was not shy to mix it up. He's a classic "Love to play with, hate to play against" player.
-The Devils have a lot of new palyers on this roster. It will take time to gel.
-The Devils controlled shots, 28-21.
-They outshot the Penguins in the final two periods, 21-9.
-Damien Brunner had the quietest nine shots you'll ever see. He led the game.
-Crosby led the Penguins with four.
-Martin led the Penguins with 24:26 of ice time.
-Andy Greene led the Devils with 21:51 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 32-22 (59 percent).
-Crosby was 15 for 22 (68 percent).
-Zajac was 8 for 14 (57 percent).
-Niskanen led the game with five blocked shots.
-Salvador, Anton Volchenkov and Patrik Elias each led the Devils with two blocked shots.
-Fleury recorded his 250th career win and his 24th career shutout. He recorded the first season-opening shutout for the franchise since he beat the Flyers, 4-0, Oct. 5, 2006.
-Fleury became the 47th goalie in NHL history to reach 250 wins. He is tied for 46th place on the all-time wins list with hall-of-famer Johnny Bower.
-Crosby recorded his 666th career point and it came against... the Devils.
-Adams appeared in his 800th career game.
-Dupuis recorded his 200th career assist.