After playing a quintessential road game for 55 minutes, the Penguins leaked for a late goal by rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and fell to the Oilers, 2-1, in a shootout.
Despite playing without superstar Evgeni Malkin, who was a late scratch due to an undisclosed lower-body injury, the Pens displayed surprising jump for a team playing its third game in four nights. Taking full advantage of a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, the black and gold snatched the lead at 3:13 of the first period. With Chris Kunitz providing a perfect screen in front, Kris Letang gathered in a crisp cross-ice pass from Steve Sullivan at the left point and drove the puck past Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk for his first goal of the season.
Unfortunately, it was the only offense the Geno-less Pens would muster over the course of the evening. Although he appeared shaky at times, the 6’6” Dubnyk held the visitors in check the rest of the way, stopping 33 shots.
The talented young Oilers didn’t fare much better, thanks to a superb 34-save performance by Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. For the better part of three periods the veteran backup was airtight, turning aside a number of quality scoring chances and making it look effortless to boot.
Edmonton broke through at 15:05 of the final period, when Taylor Hall dug the puck off the end boards and fed Nugent-Hopkins to left of the Penguins’ net. The 18-year-old rookie—playing in his first NHL game—made no mistake and whipped a backhander past Johnson to knot the score at 1-1.
Still, the Oilers nearly handed the game back to the Pens 20 seconds later when Ryan Smyth drew a major penalty and game misconduct for elbowing Kunitz. Although the Pens had a number of good chances—including a wicked shot by Tyler Kennedy with half a minute to play—they couldn’t notch the winning goal.
In the shootout, the normally redoubtable Johnson (10 saves on 11 shots in shootouts last season) yielded a pair of quick goals to Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky. James Neal kept the black-and-gold’s flickering hopes alive with a sizzling tally on the Pens’ second attempt, but Dubnyk denied Sullivan to earn the extra point for the Oilers.
Despite the disappointing finish to the road trip, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma remained upbeat.
“We got five out of six points,” he said. “I like that. We got some wins in tough places. We’ve played a lot of hockey already and I think that showed in this game. A lot of guys got taxed. But we’re happy with our start.”
The Penguins converted only one of eight power plays … The Pens remain perfect on the penalty kill (0 power-play goals against in 11 chances) … Letang paced the Pens with a game-high six shots … Johnson earned the No. 2 star … Arron Asham, Malkin, and Brooks Orpik were scratches.
The Penguins return to CONSOL Energy Center for their home opener against Florida Tuesday night. The Pens lead the all-time series with the Panthers, 35-27-7.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.