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3 Impressions: Caps 4, Pens 1

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

I know the score might not reflect it, but overall I thought the effort was there and that the players skated hard for Mike Sullivan. It was certainly sloppy at times, but that’s to be expected in the first game under a new head coach as they get used to his style and the way he wants them to play. Not to mention they played one of the best teams in the NHL. His message to the guys was to play inspired hockey, and I thought they had a number of stretches that were just that. As long as that compete level, passion and battle continues to be there, the rest should come.

“I think execution-wise, (Sullivan) wanted us to make a few more plays coming out of our end and be a little bit more poised in that area," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I thought we showed signs of that in parts of the game and obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The chances were there. Oh man, were the chances there. The Pens put a lot of rubber at Braden Holtby – firing 45 shots at the Caps netminder – but he was his usual dominant self against Pittsburgh, stopping all but one of those pucks that came his way. The one sequence that stands out to me is when Phil Kessel put a puck on net and David Perron had a rebound chance before Evgeni Malkin had FOUR STRAIGHT cracks at it. But somehow, Holtby was able to keep it out of the net. The Pens need to be better at bearing down in and around the blue paint and making sure they have bodies there that are taking away the goalie’s sightlines, but there were definitely a lot of positives in terms of the Pens’ attack.

“It all started from coming out of our zone with possession of the puck,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin explained. “Our forwards were attacking wide off the entries. We were getting a lot of opportunities and even though our power play didn’t score tonight, they created some good chances for us and were shooting the puck.”

Beau Bennett had been playing the best hockey of his pro career lately, but as his luck would have it, he got injured late in the first period when TJ Oshie shoulder-checked him into the boards as he chipped a puck in deep. Bennett didn’t see the hit coming so he wasn’t able to protect himself. He got up slowly, skated to the locker room and did not return. His roommate Dumoulin came to his defense immediately, and though he ended up getting a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as he went after Oshie, I like seeing a guy stand up for his teammate. In Bennett’s absence, Sullivan used a mish-mash of forward combinations. Primarily, Patric Hornqvist skated in Bennett's spot next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

“I don’t have any specifics other than it’s my understanding that we’re going to lose him for a little while,” Sullivan said of Bennett. “I think over the next 24-48 hours we’ll have a better understanding as far as the timeframe is concerned, but that’s what I have right now.”

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