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Endgame: Penguins 3, Devils 0

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

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After a disappointing playoffs for Marc-Andre Fleury last season, the Penguins goaltender started this year off after a short summer the best way possible: with a shutout.

Fleury made 28 saves in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils in Pittsburgh’s regular-season opener on Thursday at CONSOL Energy Center, his 250th win. He had to make several dazzling stops late in the game to preserve the goose egg, including a penalty shot by Adam Henrique and a sick reaching save behind his back that looked like a sure goal before he gloved it.

Along with strong goaltending, a strong start helped propel the Penguins to the win. Chuck Kobasew and Sidney Crosby both scored in the first period to give them a lead they later added onto in the third with a goal from Craig Adams.

Crosby offered this assessment of his team’s play…

“We did a pretty good job. I thought we probably gave ‘Flower’ a little too much work later on; we might have sat back a little bit and tried to protect it instead of playing in the offensive zone a little bit more. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing when you’re thinking about playing defense. So that’s something that’ll come and hopefully (we’ll) get lots of experience playing with leads, but I think for the first game our work ethic was there and it’s going to be a process.”

It wasn’t easy. 

But Marc-Andre Fleury really didn’t care.

Fleury stopped all 28 New Jersey Devils shot attempts, including a penalty shot in the third period from Adam Henrique, en route to career win No. 250 for the netminder and a 3-0 victory for the Penguins. 

“I’m happy,” Fleury said. “I’m happy to get in there and get a win. It is a long season. We got this first one and now it’s done and I’m looking forward to the next one.”

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Forward James Neal left Thursday’s game with about five minutes left in the first period with the same upper-body injury that caused him to miss Wednesday’s practice and today’s morning skate, and did not return.

“More a situation where he didn’t want to aggravate (it) in the first game of the season,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “But we will evaluate where he’s at (Friday) a little further,”

The coaches did a lot of line shuffling with Neal gone, but here are the lines they started the game with: Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis, Jokinen-Malkin-Neal, Bennett-Sutter-Kobasew, Glass-Jeffrey-Adams. Bylsma said that Bennett will practice and/or play on the right side in Neal’s spot with Jokinen and Malkin.

Coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday that we would “probably” see defenseman Olli Maatta play games while Kris Letang is on injured reserve. Turns out, Maatta ended up dressing for the first one.

Maatta, who is the youngest rookie defenseman to crack the Penguins opening-night roster since Letang also did so as a 19-year-old in 2006, skated on the third pairing with Robert Bortuzzo. Maatta is an elite prospect, having been drafted in the first round (22nd overall) right here in this very building last summer and crafting an impressive junior career with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. But he’s also a teenager with a lot of nerves and anxiety heading into his NHL debut. Taking all of that into consideration, Maatta had his good moments and his bad in Thursday’s game.

A prime example of that came in the first period, where he tried to make a short breakout pass but ended up turning it over. However, Maatta recovered quickly, lifting the player’s stick and stealing it back – making sure the puck left the zone this time.

“I got comfortable when the game went on out there,” Maatta said. “I think I played pretty good for a first game. You’ve got to remember it’s the first game, so it can’t be perfect. But that’s a good first game. I think I can go better there.”

Before Thursday, the last time the Penguins and Devils met in a regular-season opener was on Oct. 5, 2005 – Crosby’s NHL debut. The captain didn’t score in that game, but he did this evening at CONSOL Energy Center. Linemates Chris
Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis started the play, while Crosby finished it. Kunitz checked a Devils player into the boards at his own blue line, causing the puck to squirt free. Dupuis swept over and picked it up and he and Crosby went with speed through the neutral zone on a 2-on-1. Dupuis passed it to Crosby, who cut to the left and beat Schneider far side.

It’s only the first game, but Crosby – last season’s Ted Lindsay Award winner as the MVP voted by the players – looks like himself already. He looked strong and fast, flying around out there, and his goal was vintage ‘Sid.’ Oh, and he went 15-7 (68 percent) in the faceoff dot. That’s always good to see.

Chuck Kobasew sure knows how to make a debut.

He scored in his first preseason game with the Penguins (two goals, actually) on a professional tryout contract. Then in Kobasew’s first regular-season game with Pittsburgh after earning a one-year contract on Wednesday, he notched Pittsburgh’s first goal in the opening frame. Starting at right wing on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett, Kobasew and his centerman teamed up for the goal. Kobasew entered the zone and dropped a pass to Sutter, then immediately did center drive to the net. Sutter took a shot and his rebound went right to Kobasew, who whacked it past Schneider.

Again, it’s only the first game of 82 and we didn’t get to see the line combinations for long with Neal leaving late in the first period. But if Bennett, Sutter and Kobasew stay together, they could absolutely be a third scoring line for the Penguins. Kobasew has three 20-goal seasons in this league, and he looks to be re-discovering that scoring touch with the offensively gifted Penguins. Contributions from that trio would make an already potent attack even deeper.

The Penguins got another contribution from their bottom-six in Craig Adams. The veteran forward, who played his 800th career game, scored in the third period to cushion Pittsburgh’s lead. The durable Adams extended his consecutive games-played streak to 207 games tonight.

“’Glasser’ made a good play,” Adams said when describing the goal. “He blocked a shot on the initial play and then we had a 3-on-2. It's the type of play we work on over and over in practice. Glasser did the right thing, kicked it out wide, drove to the net and that lane was there for me. ‘Geno’ made a good. Amazingly enough I think I was shooting there. It was nice to see it go in.”

Matt Niskanen and Beau Bennett started the play that led to Kobasew’s goal. Niskanen – who displayed impressive playmaking ability at times in the preseason – fired a long breakout pass up the ice to Bennett at the blue line, who one-touched it to Kobasew coming through the neutral zone with speed. Amazing vision from both Niskanen and Bennett on that play.

Author: Sam Kasan
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