After the longest offseason of Evgeni Malkin’s career, the Penguins started their 2019-20 campaign last night in Pittsburgh. Fortunately for all the Penguins opening night theatrics were kept to a minimum, with some simple introductions and metal power riffs. After Jeff Jimmy John Jimerson rocked the house to start his 29th year we were ready to roll in the Burgh.
If you read our Gameday then you already know this you wise dog you, but here are the lines the Pens rolled out to start the game:
Before we dive into the recap it wouldn’t be a proper welcome back without a nice trip to Grover Island baby
No surprise with the change in age difference as it was a focus of JR’s to knock some years off the team. 11 out of 23 is a wild stat though if you think about it, just under 50% of the roster was turned over. In addition to that, those that remain from the cup winning teams has dwindled.
I mentioned this in our post on the rule changes put into place over the offseason. We are going to see a lot of left-sided faceoffs this year from the Pens.
This doesn’t fit some narratives, but Grover is a straight facts man.
Obligatory history lesson, class dismissed.
First thoughts off the draw, never forget that we suffered through the ugly brown gold years and now get these glorious uniforms. Also, Buffalo should feel the same way because their roads are gorgeous. Early in the period we were all stunned when Conor Sheary’s first shot of the game didn’t go in.
The Sabres were outshooting the Pens 9-2 after the first five minutes of the period but nothing too crazy for Murray. The Galchenyuk-Malkin-Tanev line had some jump early. Just after the five-minute mark, the Pens had trouble clearing the defensive zone as two Pens tied each other up along the boards while trying to get the puck up the wall and Sheary said thank you very much.
Murray a little deep in the net for this chance for my liking, but he may have known it was Sheary and was expecting a short-side attempt.
The Sabres kept pushing and the Pens kept getting sloppy, Murray stood tall on Girgensons barreling in and by the 10 minute TV timeout the shots were 14-3 Buffalo. After an impressive shift by the fourth line followed by some more solid work by Galchenyuk in his debut, the Pens started getting some momentum. With 5:20 left they were awarded their first powerplay of the year. The powerplay got some really good looks with the first unit but couldn’t get anything to fall. With 22 seconds left in the advantage the Pens gave up their first shorthanded breakaway of the year as Girgensons took it from blueline to Murray’s face, but Murr said Nah Chief.
In the final 90 seconds, the second line had a really smooth play but Hutton denied Tanev on the doorstep and the frame would end 1-0 Sabres.
The Pens closed what was a 15-3 shot differential thanks to the powerplay, but Matt Murray was the only reason the game was within reach after 20 minutes. Before the game started I was interested to see how the Schultz-Johnson pairing would be used, at the end of one the defense TOI looked like this:
Letang 8:12, Pettersson 7:06, Schultz 6:20, Dumoulin 6:05, Gudbranson 5:43, Johnson 5:16. In my opinion, other than Dumo being low this is near perfection.
The first line finally decided to show up in the second period as they dominated the opening shift of the period, they left with nothing to show for it but it was nice to know they were playing. Two minutes later we heard Kahun’s name get called for the first time in the game, he had a look on a 2 on 1 with McCann after making a nice steal but attempted to force a pass from 5 feet out instead of shoot, he will fit in nicely.
The Penguins continued pressuring to start the period and were rewarded with another powerplay opportunity. Before they could give up an odd-man rush Crosby smoothly found Letang at the point who went across the blueline to Geno. Malkin looked things over, said fuck you Jobu, I do it myself, and we were tied at one.
EVGENI MALKIN (1) Assisted by Letang (1) & Crosby (1) @ 5:50 PPG
Park Hornqvist in front of the net and fire accurate shots, that is a recipe for success. I am not sure why Sullivan even tinkered with removing Hornqvist from the powerplay. You really couldn’t ask for a better player to get the first goal for the Pens, and with the way Geno started this game, there wasn’t a more deserving Penguin.
The Pens continued pressuring but couldn’t get anything to go. With 10:02 left Marcus Pettersson got his stick up in someone’s grill and the Pens PK would get their first look of the night. Blueger and Aston-Reese were the first forwards out for the kill along with Letang and Dumo. Nick Bjugstad and Tanev were paired with Gudbranson and Johnson for the second group. Dominik Simon jumped on with 12 seconds left in the kill and cleared a puck to finish the job. Right after the kill Buffalo got more pressure than they did the entire two minutes, Murray was strong and Dumoulin took a penalty less than 60 seconds after the previous penalty ended. The Pens went with Blueger and ZAR to start the second PK with Letang and Johnson in the back. Murray was strong early in the PK when all hell broke loose, the first time. Then all hell broke loose for a second time, and in the scrum, Casey Mittelstadt would get a good bounce to Sheary who had a wide-open net to make it 2-0.
Overall for a group of forwards the haven’t killed a penalty in this system before it wasn’t terrible, killing off four minutes consecutively and without Dumoulin for the second two is a tough ask against any team.
The Pens couldn’t really get much going and the Sabres started using the stretch pass to split the D and get a ton of odd-man breaks. With less than a minute left Rasmus Dahlin took advantage of a pinching Dumoulin and joined the rush with Reinhart for a 2 on 1.5 against Letang and a flailing Blueger. Reinhart made the pass early to Dahlin who shifted to the forehand and made it 3-1 over Murray’s glove with 43.8 seconds left.
For the second time in the game, Murray stays tight to the goal line and shoots himself in the foot, but the play all developed when Teddy Blueger found himself in no mans lands as he tried to fill in for Dumoulin:
The Pens would give up another grade-A chance two seconds later by Kyle Okposo but he used his 6 million dollar salary to shoot the puck to the moon.
The Pens were outshot 14-5 in the period.
Ideally, the Penguins wanted to start the third period off with some pressure but that didn’t really happen. Less than three minutes in the Sabres split the Pens D again and Okposo got a 40-foot breakaway that he again put into orbit. Five minutes in the Penguins were gift-wrapped a powerplay opportunity after a questionable interference call. It took 75 seconds for the Pens to get set up in the offensive zone on the powerplay, and they didn’t do anything with the time remaining. Following the penalty, Brandon Tanev went to work along the boards and drew a holding penalty by keeping his feet moving. The first unit looked like they just realized Phil Kessel was the primary puck carrier the last few years on the powerplay. The second unit got a minor look at goal. The penalty expired and the Pens were down to the final 9 minutes which clicked away to zero without much of a bang.
-The Malkin line was the best line out there and it wasn’t even close
-None of the defenders were the best line out there and it wasn’t even close
-Tough to get mad at a guy that puts up a .927 save percentage facing 41 shots
-All preseason long the Pens used Guentzel-Crosby-Kahun and McCann-Bjugstad-Hornqvist, only to change them once Rust went down. For the most part, those six players were obsolete.
-Seth Rorabaugh said it best, in many ways this looked like game 5 against the Islanders
-As expected the Johnson-Schultz pairing was a paper formality. The defensive TOI finished as such: Letang 27:45, Schultz 20:05, Dumoulin 19:27, Pettersson 19:19, Gudbranson 15:03, Johnson 14:06
-Letang and Dumoulin the only defenders out there for the 2 even-strength goals against
-For only getting 10 minutes I felt like Blueger was always noticeable
-Justin Schultz with a team-high 6 shots on goal