While the Pittsburgh Penguins entered this season with expectations of finishing at or near the top of the standings once again this season, I still had plenty of concerns. It’s only one game and a game against an awful team to boot, but they went a long way in alleviating some of those concerns tonight.
The biggest concern was Marc-Andre Fleury. Throughout his career he has developed a reputation for being a bit of a headcase. Being benched in favor of Tomas Vokoun in the playoffs last season probably didn’t do much to help that. Tonight, he didn’t just shut a lot of people up, he made them look stupid. Fleury earned his 250th career win and did it in spectacular fashion with his 24th career shutout. He stopped 28 shots from the New Jersey Devils.
Another concern was the third and fourth lines. Unlike the Penguins teams that went to back to back Stanley Cup Finals, this team doesn’t appear to have the same ability to roll four lines. That was until tonight. One could make an argument that the third line was the best on the ice throughout the game. Chuck Kobasew, who was just officially brought on as a Penguin yesterday, scored the first goal of the season on the heels of a nifty play by Beau Bennett.
We definitely saw a different style of play from the Penguins tonight. There definitely seemed to be a stronger focus on the defensive side of the ice. While the Devils did have more shots than the Pens, there seemed to be a strong emphasis on staying at home and protecting Fleury. There weren’t as many long stretch passes up the boards from defensemen that we have seen in the past or as fast of a pace of play.
The good thing is that it didn’t appear to hurt the offense. Four minutes after Kobasew scored, Sidney Crosby netted his first goal of the season on an odd man rush. Craig Adams of all people iced it with his first goal midway through the third period.
The news wasn’t all good for the Pens tonight though. James Neal left the ice in the first period with an apparent injury and never returned. Fortunately, the claims are that him not returning was only for precautionary reasons.
James Neal (upper-body). #Pens didn't want to aggravate it in 1st game of season. Will be evaluated tomorrow, per coach Bylsma
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 4, 2013
Bennett will replace Neal on the second line until he is ready to go. The Penguins next game will be on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres.