Tonight the Penguins made their second stop on their season-opening trek through Western Canada in the rocky mountains of Calgary to take on Sidney Crosby’s Olympic linemate Jarome Iginla and the Flames in their home opener.
The Pens came out looking a little flat in the beginning of the game. The Flames, perhaps invigorated by their sellout home crowd, played stronger to start and outshot Pittsburgh early on. They were also the ones who managed to draw first blood. At 15:32 in the first period, defenseman Mark Giordano slipped a sneaky little pass to Curtis Glencross in the slot, who buried it to give the Flames a 1-0 lead. It would be their first and only lead of the night.
Tyler Kennedy had finished out the first period in the penalty box for tripping, which carried over into the second period. As soon as TK was sprung from the sin bin, he took a pass from Pascal Dupuis and went five hole on Miikka Kirusoff to tie the game.
Kennedy’s goal opened the floodgates and sparked a four-goal second period for the Penguins. Matt Niskanen gave them their first lead of the night- and matched his goal total in black and gold last year- by putting home his own rebound on the third try for a power play goal. Craig Adams and Evgeni Malkin would each tally their first goal of the season, with Malkin’s also coming on the power play. The Pens would finish 2-for-5 with the man advantage while killing off all seven of their penalties.
Speaking of penalties, things got extremely chippy in the second as the Flames’ frustration started to bubble over. Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich caught Matt Cooke (of all people) upside the jaw, with what appeared to be an intentional headshot as he entered the offensive zone, causing a 10-player scrum in front of the Calgary net. No penalty was called on the initial hit, though Deryk Engelland and Sarich each got a double minor for roughing in the ensuing pileup. Cooke seemed dazed after the hit and went to the locker room. (Thankfully he was able to return and play for the entire third period and suffered nothing more than a sore jaw.) Malkin and Glencross also exchanged shoves- and blows- when tempers flared over Lee Stempniak’s slash on Malkin.
Some of the Penguins concerns from last year- lack of power play goals, little offensive contribution from James Neal and Matt Niskanen’s play- haven’t been problems so far in this young season. Pittsburgh has four power play goals in two games (man does that ever feel good to say!), James Neal has already lit the lamp and assisted on Malkin’s goal, and Niskanen played what was probably his best game so far as a Penguin against Calgary. But one thing that seems to be carrying over from last year is the Pens allowing other teams back in the game in the third period. They entered the third with a 4-1 lead, but nearly let that slip away. At 9:08, Rene Bourque converted on a pass from Alex Tanguay to make it 4-2. Then, about five and a half minutes later, Olli Jokinen continued his career as a Penguin-killer and cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-3.
Fortunately, Jordan Staal was able to secure a win with an empty net goal, his first of the season, in the waning seconds of the game for a 5-3 final.
It was noted that Malkin did not play very much in the third period, having only been on the ice for three shifts plus a power play and he did not register any ice time past the eight minute mark. Dan Bylsma stated that he wanted to rest Malkin given the score (and perhaps the physicality of the game). However, it was reported after the game that Malkin was suffering from a mild injury. Luckily, the injury is being reported as nothing more than soreness and since #71 stayed on the bench rather than heading to the locker room, it doesn’t appear to be anything serious.
Kris Letang led the Pens in ice time with 25 minutes and also registered an assist and three shots on net. Letang, Paul Martin (22:16) and Zbynek Michalek (21:53) were the only Penguins who logged more than 20 minutes of ice time. Matt Niskanen also registered an assist in addition to his goal, giving him two points on the night. Marc-Andre Fleury made 17 out of 20 saves in the win.
The Penguins play again on Sunday night, wrapping up the Western Canadian road trip in Edmonton against the Oilers at 9 pm.
1. Kris Letang
2. Mark Giordano
3. Curtis Glencross