The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers kicked off the shortened NHL season with a thrilling slugfest that fans have come to expect when these teams lock horns. The Penguins bested the Flyers in Philadelphia by a 3-1 score.
Let’s examine what this first game taught us about the two squads involved and the league on a broader scale.
Thanks to the 119-day lockout, the NHL season has been reduced to 48 games. While the schedule has been compressed, it does not seem to be quite as grueling as the schedule that resulted from the NBA lockout.
Since coaches won’t have to worry about resting their star players for a long, grinding season, the best players will get much more ice time. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma showed a willingness to play forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together and often, with Crosby logging 19 minutes and Malkin 16:50 in the opener.
The two spent a good deal of time together on the ice against Philadelphia, and I expect this trend to continue throughout the season, both for the Penguins and other star-heavy teams.
The Flyers started out this game looking like they were still in offseason form. They were just a step slow early on, but they dominated the entire second period and large chunks of the third.
With all of the verve and enthusiasm that the start of the NHL season brings, the home teams failed to match their fans’ energy on opening day.
Any fans waiting for a 7-5 game between these two clubs were left disappointed, as both Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov looked much sharper than they did when we last saw them.
The embattled goaltenders allowed a total of three goals between them, and they took turns standing on their heads for their clubs. This bodes well for both of these squads considered to be playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.
A new face on the Penguins, Brandon Sutter was the main return from the Jordan Staal trade. He immediately made his impact felt, with a hit, two takeaways and a 57 percent faceoff percentage.
He also logged 4:48 on special teams, so watch him to fill a large number of needs for Pittsburgh in his first season as a Penguin.
Even though the fireworks didn’t go off in the Wells Fargo Center like they did in last year’s postseason, the rust from the lockout had little effect on the caliber of game that these two teams play against each other.
There is a visible dislike between the two teams, and it continues to create memorable contests every time they tangle. With four more games to go to settle this year’s Battle for the Keystone State, the opening volley showed glimpses of the slugfest that will ensue all season—must-watch entertainment for hockey fans everywhere.