Breakdown: Game One – Penguins 0, Stars 3

The Penguins’ season started with a whimper Thursday night.

Pittsburgh’s offense, the topic of immense offseason hype, sputtered throughout the season opener in Dallas.

Antti Niemi, to his credit, impressively stoned the Penguins’ big guns on numerous occasions and pitched a shutout to start his tenure with the Stars.

The Stars had added some high-profile names to their lineup over the summer. The aforementioned Niemi, newly acquired from the Sharks, started between the pipes. Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya also brought their services to Dallas. A healthy Tyler Seguin rejoined Jamie Benn, last year’s Art Ross winner, and Jason Spezza on the top line.

The Pens’ offseason acquisitions are well-documented. Phil Kessel made a decent debut in black and Vegas gold, though he was held off the scoresheet. The Crosby-Kunitz-Kessel line spent a good portion of the game buzzing around the Dallas net, with Crosby and Kessel particularly showing good chemistry. Kessel ripped a few shots, including a slapper on the first powerplay, but the Stars held Crosby without a shot through the first two periods.

The Malkin-Plotnikov-Hornqvist line also showed brief flashes of brilliance, but Plotnikov clearly is still adjusting to the North American game.

David Perron, who faded last season after a stellar start with the Penguins, found himself on the third line with Nick Bonino and Beau Bennett. Daniel Sprong made his NHL debut on the fourth line with Matt Cullen and Bobby Farnham.

Dallas is a rarely seen Western Conference foe, so between-the-whistle chippiness was kept to a minimum. The result was a fairly tame opening game.

Just as many have suggested, the Penguins’ defensive corps looked to be the team’s weakness despite the lack of scoring. Olli Maatta, after sitting out the majority of the season, returned and looked rusty. Kris Letang, who also dealt with injuries for a long stretch of the 2014-15 season, seemed comfortable as the unquestioned number one defenseman.

Rob Scuderi actually took a couple shots, as a result of the Pens’ strategy of breaking into the zone and dropping to the point. Otherwise, he was the same Scuderi who caused so much angst among Penguins fans last year. Derrick Pouliot was notably absent from Pittsburgh’s opening day roster.

 

First period

Early on, Kessel streaked down the right side and put a shot on Niemi. Soon after, however, after Brian Dumoulin found Beau Bennett breaking into the Dallas zone, the Stars counterattacked and Mattias Janmark put one past Marc-Andre Fleury. It was Janmark’s first shot of his first shift of his first NHL game. Perron failed to lift Janmark’s stick as he skated in the slot.

Janmark continued to make trouble for the Penguins even as Benn and Seguin stayed relatively quiet. Seguin rang one off the crossbar before Malkin drew the first penalty of the game, getting hauled down by Jason Demers. The first powerplay unit moved the puck well but came up empty. Sprong made an appearance on the second unit.

 

Second period

Early in the second, Bonino hooked Spezza and went to the box. Ales Hemsky carried the puck on the rush, walked into the Penguins’ zone unopposed, and roofed a wrister on Fleury’s blocker side.

With a minute left in the frame, Mike Johnston had Crosby, Malkin and Kessel on the ice together. The “three-headed monster” threatened but failed to put the puck behind Niemi.

 

Third period

The third saw the Penguins trying to mount a comeback. Bennett and Cullen took bad penalties early in the period, slowing down any offensive momentum the Pens may have been building. On the ensuing powerplay after Cullen’s penalty, Sharp appeared to score his first goal as a member of the Stars. The refs waved the goal off and sent Benn to the box for pushing Lovejoy into Fleury.

Malkin took a high-sticking penalty when he caught Alex Goligoski with the follow-through on a backhanded shot. Soon after, Ian Cole clipped Seguin’s face while falling to the ice. Benn scored on the first shot after the Cole penalty to ice the game for the Stars.

Though the Pens pulled Fleury to send out an extra attacker, Niemi slammed the door with several solid saves. The ex-Sharks goalie had 37 total saves on the night.

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Phil Kessel

The Pens didn’t score, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on Kessel’s part. He looked fast and willing to shoot, and the top line meshed well. He was credited with two shots, but he attempted closer to eight. But for Niemi’s sparkling game, Kessel likely would have had at least one goal.

Kris Letang

Letang looked like the Norris Trophy candidate he was last year before he sustained a season-ending concussion. He was involved in the offense and looked strong on the powerplay, knocking down pucks at the blue line and making clean passes.

Chris Kunitz

Kunitz looked faster than he did at any point in the waning games of last season. He’ll have to be to keep up with Crosby and Kessel on the top line. He made his presence known in front of Niemi and was actually hit by a shot from Ian Cole.

Olli Maatta

Maatta missed the majority of last season, so it’s understandable that he would be rusty. However, he didn’t look particularly comfortable and committed a giveaway. The young defenseman has some time to re-acclimate to the NHL, but the quicker he does, the better the Penguins will be.

Rob Scuderi

Scuderi was on the ice for the Star’s even-strength goal in the first. He (surprisingly) took two shots, but at other points he allowed himself to be muscled off the puck.

 

The Penguins are back in action at the Arizona Coyotes at 10 p.m. on Saturday, October 10.