So, I sat down and started to watch last night’s game and was immediately rewarded with a great feed from Phil Kessel to Sidney Crosby ending with a goal scorer’s goal at the edge of the Florida crease on the power play a mere 6:46 into the game. Crosby didn’t really get a clean shot off, just enough to get it past Florida’s goalie, James Reimer. (Kris Letang got the secondary assist.)
A few minutes later I got to witness Brian Dumoulin step up and do what I have been longing to see for many years– a Penguin Defensemen smack down an opposing player with a clean open ice hit. Dumoulin lowered the boom on Pittsburgh native and Florida scoring machine Vincent Trocheck with a shoulder check, square in the chest, leveling the opposing forward with a hit that almost knocked the helmet off of said forward’s head, sending him to the ice. For I moment I thought I was watching archival footage of one Ulf Samuelsson.
In fact, our boys in Black and Gold played really well throughout the first period, limiting the reinvigorated Panthers to only 13 shots. Considering that the Cats from Florida have gotten their claws back and are averaging 42 shots per game this early in the season, I would consider that a win.
Unfortunately, the roof caved in and the second period of the game started to look more like our Penguins’ first two Thursday night performances. Florida launched a total of 19 more shots at the Penguins’ Rock of Gibraltar, Matt Murray, who, in his calm manner, deflected all but two of those shots away from harm. Our local heroes clung to a 3 – 2 lead.
Although our Penguins’ defense reverted to its inconsistent self, often giving up odd man breaks and allowing opposing players free reign through the Penguins’ defensive zone, the offense did not falter. Following a great steal and drive to the net by Tom Kuhnhakl, newcomer Greg McKegg notched his first regular season goal as a Penguin by roofing a backhander over a fallen Reimer again from the edge of the crease just under the crossbar. Best of all, the effort by the two Penguins’ forwards was a shorthanded effort; the team’s first shorthanded goal of the season.
Patric Hornqvist added the goal that would preserve the lead going into the third period in true Hornqvist style. Scrambling around the crease, following a hard shot from Defenseman Olli Maatta (don’t look now, but Maatta is the leading scoring D-man on the Penguins’ roster – fellow writers Rick Buker and Phil Krundel’s faith in #3 may be paying off), Hornqvist fought through Florida’s defense to jam the loose rebound into the net. Former Penguin Defenseman turned Florida Coach Bob Boughner tried to get the goal overturned, calling goalie inference by the Penguins’ warrior Right Wing. The puck was clearly loose, however, so Hornqvist had every right to charge the crease. Bryan Rust, who must think he is some kind of waiter serving up a goal for the 7th time this season, added the secondary helper.
As the third period started, Crosby extended the Penguins’ lead when he waved his magic wand around the net again to deflect a Letang feed from what should have been an impossible angle; the goal line off to Reimer’s left. The deflection floated in front of the net, bounced off of the inside of Reimer’s right arm, and wobbled into the net.
Conor Sheary was rewarded for a solid night’s work with the second assist. It was a well-deserved point for the night since the diminutive Wing had rung a shot off of the crossbar and another stolen by Reimer’s lucky glove save that was partially over the goal line. In fact, it was so close that the league chose to review the play.
I do not remember whether it was Steve Mears or perhaps Bob Errey who commented during the telecast that all 6 of the goals scored to that point were from less than 10’ from the crease, including the two goals scored by Florida. However, Aaron Ekblad finally broke that streak of short range goals walking down from the point to the top of the circles with a wide open blast to pull Florida back into the game. The Panthers would not go away easily. If not for the cool calm presence of Murray, turning away 13 of 14 additional shots in the third period, the story line of the game may have had a tragic (rather than triumphant) ending.
A win is a win, no matter whether it was pretty or not, so let’s take this win and run. Murray was a rock and the Penguins offense again showed its mettle, but the Penguins team “D” was once more the best weapon of their opponents. Florida put 46 shots on goal. With shot blocking beasts Ian Cole on Injured Reserve and Nick Bonino plying his trade elsewhere this year, the Penguins “D” only managed to block 6 shots. If not for Murray and Panthers’ shooters missing their mark another 15 times, the final score may have been different — but that can be a discussion for another time.