Iginla feels like rookie again in debut for Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- The veteran of 1,220 NHL games felt like he was an 18-year-old rookie all over again.
Right Wing - PIT
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 103 | +/-: -6
Jarome Iginla said the emotions and mindset associated with making his Pittsburgh Penguins debut Saturday afternoon were unlike anything since the first game of his career 17 years ago. Saturday was his first game playing for any NHL team other than the only team he'd known, the Calgary Flames.
"You know what, I was trying to think of it, and the closest thing to it was like my first game," the 35-year-old said after Pittsburgh defeated the New York Islanders, 2-0, for its 15th consecutive victory.
"You're literally all the way back to when I was 18 when you're trying to stay calm. And we had an afternoon game that game, too, and you're trying not to be too excited or too nervous, and then I tell myself, 'I've played lots of games. Relax.' But it's different.
"It is different."
Less than 13 hours after his plane touched down in Pittsburgh after midnight, Iginla logged 17:30 of ice time over 20 shifts. He registered three shots, two hits and a plus-1 rating skating on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
Iginla saw some power-play time and he played on both wings. A longtime right wing for the Flames, the plan was for Iginla to play on the left side for Pittsburgh.
He began the game at left wing but was skating mostly on the right side for most of the first period after Neal offered to switch in an effort to make Iginla more comfortable.
"I think he was feeling a little bad for me there in the first," Iginla said, half-jokingly. "I was a little lost, left wing and trying to adjust to different stuff, so he was trying to make it easier on me and was just going to switch me back (eventually).
"But as it went on, we switched back and kind of felt more comfortable. It was nice of him in the first. Lots was happening quickly, and I was just trying to fit in. You want to do good things out there, but you also want to stay out of trouble and help the guys out too."
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Unfamiliar with the drills the Penguins use, Iginla said he was "just trying to stay out of people's ways" during the pregame warm-up.
To an extent, those feelings endured early in the game while adjusting to a system that is "a lot different" than the one Bob Hartley runs in Calgary. Iginla also was dealing with the adrenaline, emotion and excitement of joining a Stanley Cup favorite in the midst of a winning streak that sits two games shy of tying the League record.
And, of course, a whole new set of teammates.
"Going into the game we just tried to tell him not to worry too much about those things, being in the right spot or system-wise," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Just go out and play. And by the second half of the game he was starting to get into the groove of the game and playing well and being a force."
Bylsma appeared to make every effort to keep Iginla with the same linemates throughout the game -- not an easy task on a day when two first-liners were out of the contest before its end. Sidney Crosby was hit in mouth with a puck during his first shift, and Chris Kunitz was given a game misconduct for checking from behind late in the second period.
Iginla said his comfort level gradually increased as the game went on. He played 6:39 in the third, more than either of the first two periods. All of his shots on goal came after the first intermission.
"It was definitely, in the first, trying to adjust and be good," Iginla said. "[Neal] and [Malkin] were flying, and you're trying to process it all. It was different. It was great, it was exciting, but it was hard to calm the excitement and the nerves and all that. So as it went on, it started to feel a little bit better. It's a treat to play with those two guys, for sure."
Neal reciprocated the sentiment. A 40-goal scorer last season, Neal was in a nine-game goalless drought until Saturday. He had been without Malkin for 13 of the previous 17 games because of injury, and the duo's left wing had been a revolving door of sorts all season.
It's safe to say that, barring injury and assuming Bylsma doesn't tinker with the lines, Neal and Malkin have found a third partner they can count on.
"He's such a great guy," Neal said of Iginla. "You can tell how he was talking to me on the bench. He's just going to keep getting better here. I definitely know the feeling coming to a new team, not the extent that he did, but it's a change and I thought he did a great job tonight."
Although Iginla made no secret about his love for Calgary and his admiration of the Flames organization and its fans, he said he felt reinvigorated playing for a team that has the best record in the NHL.
"The whole experience, just to come and be part of the win and the winning ... the crowd was into it," Iginla said. "It was a great experience."