The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t crack open the 2015-16 season they way they’d hoped Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, but they’ll get another chance tonight when they attempt to spoil the Arizona Coyotes’ home opener.
The Penguins weren’t able to capitalize on their scoring chances Thursday, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a number of good looks. The first line, Crosby, Kunitz, and new addition Phil Kessel looked fast and sharp. Kunitz had a handful of chances as a result of cross-ice passes from both line mates and Kessel got ever so close to tucking a shot inside the far post on Niemi. Kessel was credited with 6 shots and 13 shot attempts vs. Dallas, setting a good example for his teammates, as getting the puck to the net seemed to be a struggle for the 2014-15 Pens.
But we didn’t see the Penguins’ offence struggle nearly as much as the defence, and the fans aren’t the only ones who noticed. The team is working hard on building the chemistry and strength of their pretty much brand new defensive lineup. Aside from Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi, none of the 2015-16 Penguins blue liners played much last season. Olli Maatta played a grand total of 20 games and spent the rest of the year dealing with several health issues, Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole both arrived in Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, and Brian Dumoulin only played 13 games, 5 of which were during the postseason. So we can’t blame them just yet for being a bit of a mess.
Defensive pairs in game 1:
Letang – Cole
Maatta – Lovejoy
Scuderi – Dumoulin
Head Coach Mike Johnston appears to be comfortable with those pairs, so I imagine we’ll see them all back tonight. (Prepare for another Twitter meltdown over Rob Scuderi). Johnston will however keep 8 defenders on the roster for depth and practice purposes. The fourth line consists of Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon who according to Assistant Coach Gary Agnew, fit the mold and fit in nicely with the rest of the team.
The Penguins will also need to work on their special teams heading into tonight’s matchup. They were 3-0 on the power play and the penalty kill allowed the Stars 2 goals.
With every new season comes a fresh new start for each team. Good for the Coyotes, who finished the 2014-15 season with the second worst record in the NHL. However they’ve got some strong, young talent that should not be overlooked by the Penguins.
Max Domi made his NHL debut last night and did not disappoint. The 20-year-old center scored a goal and an assist in Arizona’s season opener and 4-1 win over the LA Kings. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who led all NHL defensemen with 23 goals last season also got off to a good start, adding a goal of his own against the Kings.
The Coyotes were able to get to their game quickly, scoring all four goals on their first 10 shots. Goaltender Mike Smith made it look easy with a 40-save performance, a nice start and surely a confidence booster after a tough season last year. Assuming he’ll be back between the pipes tonight, the Penguins’ powerful offence should focus on getting the puck to the net, making Smith’s night a little tougher than it was for Antti Niemi in game 1.
- Olli Maatta will be starting the Penguins off with the first milestone of the season, playing his 100th career game tonight.
- Keep an eye on Kris Letang who was very active and skated well against the Stars. He led the team in TOI with 28:28 and had 13 shot attempts.
- Ex-Penguins Steve Downie, Joe Vitale, and Zbynek Michalek will be looking to steal a win from their former team.
- In the Penguins/Coyotes season series last year, Sidney Crosby led the Penguins with 2 goals and 5 points and Tobias Rieder scored twice for the Coyotes.
Here’s to a successful power play, a strong penalty kill, a tougher defensive performance and a Phil Kessel tally! The puck drops at 10:00pm!