It took them four games, but the Pens have their first win of the season.
This was a night of several firsts – first win, first NHL goal for Daniel Sprong, first goal of the season for Malkin, first shutout for Fleury.
The level of effort was the highest it has been thus far, and that combined with a beatable Craig Anderson resulted in a successful contest for Pittsburgh.
The Senators jumped out to a hot 3-1 start this season but were coming off a win last night against the Blue Jackets.
A key to this season for the Penguins will be improvement on the blue line. Strong defense drives possession. The Penguins may have all the offensive firepower in the world, but if they can’t get the puck out of their own zone, it’s meaningless. In this game, the defense looked as competent as it has through the first four games. Perhaps that’s because Scuderi was scratched. Whatever the reason, the improved defensive play helped Fleury pitch his first shutout of 2015.
A couple other players looked like they were starting to put everything together.
Kunitz, while still not exactly on the level of his linemates, made big strides in getting to his game. He made hits, he crashed the net, and he took shots. If he played every game the way he did tonight, he would quash any questions about whether he deserves to be playing with Crosby and Kessel.
Malkin, after remaining mostly invisible to start the season, absolutely flew around the ice. He manufactured several scoring chances all by himself, stealing the puck and skating in on the Senators’ net.
Ah yes. Surprise, surprise. Predictable as clockwork, brittle Beau Bennett sat out the game with an undisclosed injury.
It turned out to be a gift in disguise for the Pens because it meant Sprong got bumped up to the third line. He made the most of his increased minutes, scoring a goal and generating numerous scoring chances. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump up to the top six if he continues to play like this, though it’s still fairly likely that management won’t keep him on the NHL club past the 10th game of the season.
Plotnikov and Scuderi were healthy scratches. Both have looked fairly dreadful through the first three games, so credit Johnston with being willing to mix it up. Adam Clendening and Brian Rust made their 2015 debuts, while Farnham jumped in on the fourth line. Clendening took two penalties, but overall didn’t have a horrible game.
Crosby and Kessel narrowly missed scoring on their first shift, thwarted only by Kunitz being unable to cleanly handle passes.
The Pens were robbed of a good scoring chance by a touch of bad luck after about five minutes. Clendening backhanded a sweet pass to Crosby, but Sid’s stick shattered like a toothpick as he tried to one-time it on the net.
Malkin’s line, on with Letang and Cole, set up a long cycle with a couple chances. Farnham followed up with a big hit. Cullen was out there laying hits on the Senators, though it seemed like he may have been sacrificing puck possession in pursuit of checks.
Pens kept swarming with shift after shift holding the Senators in their zone. At one point, Crosby tried to take it in on his own and Karlsson simply took the puck away from him.
Bobby Ryan, who has tortured the Penguins in the past, almost feasted on a Lovejoy mistake. After a turnover, Sprong found himself chasing Hoffman down the ice. Lovejoy inexplicably slid to his right to challenge Hoffman as well, leaving Ryan wide open in the slot. It took a strong glove save by Fleury to keep the score tied at 0.
Lovejoy is basically a warm glass of buttermilk on a hot day. There’s not much more to be said about what a liability he is right now.
Perron continued to settle in on Malkin’s line with Plotnikov missing. He jumpstarted several scoring chances, forcing Anderson to make saves. It looked like Perron was finally trying to show the results of his improved conditioning regimen over the summer. If he keeps playing like he did here, he’ll get his offensive game started again soon.
Even the dump-and-chase was working for the bottom six.
With a minute left in the period, red-hot Kyle Turris skated in alone and took a shot from essentially on top of Fleury. Fleury shrugged it off with his right shoulder. Flower may have been the best player in black and gold to this point in the season.
Malkin finally broke out.
It took four games, but now he’s playing like vintage Geno.
The Malkin line took the ice and Letang dug the puck off the boards. Hornqvist took control and passed it up to Geno at the blue line. Malkin took it the rest of the way himself, firing a clean shot past Anderson to give the Pens their first lead of the season.
Keeping the momentum going on the next shift, Cullen broke up ice with Sprong to his left. Cullen got the puck to Sprong. Sprong split two defenders, beating Methot and cutting inside to launch one on Anderson’s glove side.
After the Sens fought back with some offensive zone pressure of their own, Fleury made several saves to maintain the lead, losing his glove at one point.
Late in the period, Kunitz passed to Sid on a two-on-one chance and Sid fanned on the one-timer, putting the puck over the crossbar. Maybe it’s because he’s not used to taking shots.
Near the end of the period, Malkin and Karlsson got into a little scuffle after Karlsson took a penalty for slashing. Chris Neil, perpetual pissant, was the third man in, taking a shot at Malkin that Malkin returned in kind.
The Pens closed out the second on the penalty kill, with the Senators taking several shots but repeatedly missing the net.
Dave Cameron was losing his mind on the bench after the refs called a delay of game on the Sens for shooting the puck over the glass. He had good reason, since the puck was cleared from the neutral zone and it shouldn’t have been a penalty. Nonetheless, it put the Penguins on a 5-on-3. Kessel went to one knee for a one-timer but broke his stick, Crosby later narrowly missed putting one just inside the post on Anderson’s glove side, but the Pens failed to score.
Mark Borowiecki demolished Rust with a body check at the red line. Bobby Farnham, eager to prove his worth as a member of the big-league team, jumped in and challenged Borowiecki to a fight. Anticlimcatically, Farnham took two or three solid punches to the face and fell to the ice.
The Sens added some desperation as the clock ran out, pulling Anderson with over a minute and a half left in the game. Fleury locked it down and the Pens walked away with a satisfying shutout win over a strong Ottawa team.
The Pens are back in action against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.