Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 7-0 win over the Flyers in Game 1.
* THESE are the Penguins we know. The two-time defending champs certainly set the tone for this series. This group has shown an ability to play their best when the stakes are high, and that's exactly what they did. They completely overwhelmed the relatively young and inexperienced Flyers in what was a total team effort from top to bottom.
The Pens had a regular season marked by a slow first half and stretches of inconsistency, but the players have been talking a lot about how they started to find their game around the New Year and felt particularly good over the last month or so. Mike Sullivan said he wanted to see his team bring that game tonight, saying that the Pens are aware of what their identity is, which is playing with speed, playing with pace and playing a north-south speed game where they challenge their opponents with their puck possession, pursuit and quickness. "Sometimes our best defense takes place up the ice," he said. And to a man, the players understand what their contribution is to helping the team win.
The players also have a trust and a belief that every guy is going to go out there and play their game, and if they do that, they know that somebody will find a way to make big play. "Whether it's a save or a blocked shot, a defensive play, a goal, you name it, all those things add up to winning," Sidney Crosby said.
Tonight, they added up to a 7-0 victory against their biggest rival.
* Unsolicited memo to the NHL: there's no stopping Sid and Geno. The tandem has terrorized the National Hockey League for the past dozen seasons, and if tonight is any indication, Philadelphia will be the next victims. Sam Kasan has more on the pretty plays those two made tonight.
* Crosby's line with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust was terrific. They all scored at least once - with the captain netting a natural hat trick - and finished a combined plus-14 in the game. It's amazing how those young wingers tend to elevate their games at this time of year. "It's exciting to watch them," Sullivan said. "I think they're just guys that have embraced the high-stakes environment and they've thrived."
* Guentzel was particularly good and it looks like he's picking up right where he left off last postseason. He finished with a goal and three assists for a game-high and career-high four points and was a factor across all 200 feet of the ice, making plays in all three zones. For example: he netted a re-direct goal off a pass from Derick Brassard in the offensive zone; displayed some nice vision in the neutral zone to find Kris Letang streaking up the ice to start a scoring play; and backchecked to break up a play before coming up with a crucial shot block at the end of a shift in the defensive zone.
* Not lost in the Penguins' seven-goal offensive outburst is what transpired in their own end of the rink. Matt Murray furthered his reputation as a superb playoff performer, conjuring a 24-save shutout in Game 1. Jeff Carpenter has more on the goaltender extending his shutout streak to 206:26 minutes.
* There had been some outside concerns about the Pens' defensive play entering the postseason, but inside the locker room, they had no doubt they could shut it down. Sullivan said the other day that when they are committed to playing away from the puck and playing the right way, they're capable of being a stingy defensive team and had shown evidence of that throughout the course of the season. And tonight, every Pens player was dedicated to getting the job done defensively, from the forwards tracking back to the defensemen clearing the net and Murray coming up clutch during the few breakdowns that did occur.
* The Pens were so dominant at even strength they didn't need their power play to be the difference maker, but it chipped in a goal anyway, with Guentzel scoring it on the second unit. After the Pens built a big lead, the Flyers were frustrated and it showed in the amount of penalties they took. Without a lot of pressure, the Pens did look like they got a little greedy by trying to force some pretty plays, but that's understandable considering the situation.
* Overall, things didn't get too chippy out there, save for a couple of post-whistle scrums. The Pens did a good job of staying disciplined, and when they were shorthanded, the penalty kill stepped up. It had struggled down the stretch, but ended the season by thwarting 11 of 12 opportunities in the final three games and entered the playoffs with confidence. They really seemed to break out tonight with a dominant effort. They didn't allow Philadelphia to register a shot on any of their four power plays, and forced them to keep re-loading with continous clears.