To every cycle, there is a beginning and an end – a point at which it must start and a point at which every journey comes to its end. Tonight, we begin but yet another of those journeys – one that ultimately begins with the drop of a puck and ends with the sound of a buzzer. It is journey that sets a gruelling course before a number of men – young and old – lucky enough to call themselves professional hockey players. It is one filled with gruelling practices, jarring hits, frequent flights, extended road trips, suspensions, fines, an infinite amount of profanity, blood, sweat and tears. A journey that ultimately comes down to one final moment – one dream – one goal, eight months and ultimately sixteen steps! Welcome to the 2011-2012 hockey season.
Tonight, the boys in black and gold found themselves travelling to beautiful British Columbia to engage in a battle royale with the Western Conference champions of 2010-2011, the Vancouver Canucks. It would be the first of a three game road trip that will see the team meet with the three franchises in Western Canada.
The Pens would start off on the right foot, with the first goal coming courtesy of James Neal just five minutes into the period. With 14:56 left, Evgeni Malkin would sail a pass to Neal who would pick up the puck and fire it off on an awkward angle. The puck would somehow find its way past Canucks net minder Roberto Luongo, giving the Pens their first goal of the season and their first power play goal of the season. This would be followed by the Pens second power play goal of the season (yes, you read that right) courtesy of Matt Cooke just over seven and a half minutes later. Cooke would receive a pass from Pascal Dupuis – who was facing the boards when he made the pass – and bank it into the netting from directly in front of Luongo. The Pens two goal lead, however, would not last long as it would be Maxim Lapierre sending the puck to the net from the corner of the red line where it would squeak into the net via Marc-Andre Fleury’s skate blade. Fleury would “redeem” himself a minute and a half later with a beautiful glove save on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin (despite a call-in to Toronto to verify that the save was indeed made) and the Pens would head into the second with a 2-1 lead.
On to the second where both teams would tally a single goal. Less than four minutes into the period (and short-handed) Jordan Staal would direct a pass to Cooke via the boards who would then carry the puck down the ice and bank a shot past Luongo for his second of the night. Despite the fact that the Pens were able to maintain momentum for a majority of the remainder of the period, it would be the Canucks Keith Ballard scoring his first of the night to reduce the Pens lead by one with just 2:13 remaining in the first forty. Starting the play in his zone, Ballard would zip across the ice and lift the puck just over Fleury. In spite of some excellent chances in the final moment coming courtesy of Malkin and Neal, the Penguins were unable to respond. Heading into the third, the Pens were still up, holding a 3-2 lead over the Western Conference champs.
The third would see Daniel Sedin tie up the game on a delayed penalty call to Pittsburgh. Following a rush that saw Fleury bombarded by a number of shots, Sedin would patiently sit and wait before lifting a shot over the shoulder of the Pens net minder with 12:09 left in regulation. Sedin’s goal would be the last in regulation, and, as such, the first over time period of the 2011-2012 season would go down in Vancouver.
The five minute over time period would see a lot of back and forth play with few shots and no goals. Thus, the first game to go into over time would turn into the first official shoot out game of the 2011-2012 season (apparently it was a night of firsts.) Mikael Samuelsson would shoot first for Vancouver but would be easily denied by Fleury. Kris Letand would follow suit for Pittsburgh, easily beating Luongo with a backhanded lift. Alex Burrows would line up next for the Canucks and would be denied by a very impressive glove save courtesy of the Flower. Evgeni Malkin, despite a somewhat shaky night, would take his time and deke Lu out for the game winner. After sixty-five minutes of play and two rounds of a shoot out, the Pens would emerge victorious, taking the game 4-3.
Paul Martin led all skaters with 27:43 of ice time, followed closely by Kris Letang who averaged 27:06. Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal would each rifle three shots at Luongo who would face a total of 28 shots courtesy of the Pens while Fleury would face 36. Matt Cooke and Kris Letang each tallied two points.
The Pens next game goes Saturday in Calgary, Alberta – the second stop on their three game road trip – where they will face the Heritage Classic champion Calgary Flames. Puck drops at 10:00pm.
1. Daniel Sedin
2. Matt Cooke
3. Chris Higgins