My infatuation with the work joke has never really led to anything more than criticism among opposing teams' writers, and a few sporadic chuckles amongst the Penguin faithful. This morning in Helsinki, Finland, Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League finally gave some new meaning to my favorite word.
Pittsburghpenguins.com offered a live blog of the exhibition match-up between the Pens and Jokerit. The Penguins were victorious, 4-1, amidst a sellout crowd emitting chants of "Let's Go Penguins". Apparently Jokerit, who finished second in the Finnish Elite League in two of the last three seasons, hasn't been supplying its fan base with exactly what they are looking for.
First, let's begin with a little background info on the team whose name translates in English to mean: Jokers. The team's home ice is found at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland. Their inaugural season was 1967, and since that time they have won six league championships.
After his midseason firing from the Washington Capitals last season, head coach Glen Hanlon was signed as the new coach for Jokerit. 2008-09 will mark his first season behind the bench. Hanlon was understandably numb to his new team's loss to the Penguins' Thursday morning, telling reporters that "coaching the Capitals has given me more than enough experience in the getting spanked by the Penguins department."
There have been some rather big name NHLers who got their starts with Jokerit in recent history. Jarri Kurri played three seasons for Jokerit before being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1980.
The Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne, played four seasons with Jokerit before he was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1988.
Former Pittsburgh Penguin Jani Rita played with Jokerit from 1998-01, and is currently in his second stint with the team as a forward.
Atlanta Thrashers' goaltender Karri Lehtonen spent five seasons with the Finnish club before he was drafted number two overall in 2002 by the Thrashers.
Perhaps the most recognizable former Joker, especially after the Red Wings' recent Stanley Cup Championship, is Wings forward Valterri Filppula. After being drafted by Detroit in 2002, Filppula spend the next two seasons with Jokerit, honing his skills to NHL-caliber.
Other notable former Jokers include: Brian Campbell (D, Chicago), Tuomo Ruutu (F, Carolina), Ville Peltonen (F, Florida), Glenn Metropolit (F, Philadelphia), and Tim Thomas (G, Boston).
As you can see, Jokerit fans have enjoyed their fair share of NHL talent in recent history, which makes the fact that they actually cheered for an opposing team during an exhibition game even that much harder to comprehend.
Petr Sykora was a late scratch for today's game, due to a sore groin. Maxime Talbot was also out of the lineup as a precautionary measure due to a sore leg. Finnish sensation, Janne Pesonen was moved up to the Penguins' second line to play alongside Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Nine minutes into the first period, the Penguins opened the scoring. Evgeni Malkin released a rocket slapshot from the point on a Penguins' power play to give the Pens an early 1-0 lead. Alex Goligoski and Sidney Crosby picked up the assists on Geno's goal. As an aside, apparently the crowd erupted when Malkin scored.
With nine seconds left in the first period, Ruslan Fedotenko extended the Penguins' lead to two goals. Fedotenko's goal was assisted by Crosby and Miroslav Satan, perhaps rewarding Michel Therrien for putting this trio together on the Pens' top offensive unit.
Dany Sabourin replaced Marc-Andre Fleury a little over halfway through the second period. Fleury didn't allow a goal, but Therrien stated that he wanted both goalies to see some game action before the opening of the regular season on Saturday.
At 5:03 of the third period, Brooks Orpik pulled down Jokerit's Janne Lahti on a breakaway. Lahti was awarded a penalty shot, on which he beat Sabourin to make the score 2-1 Pittsburgh.
Finnish native Janne Pesonen made an impact later in the third period, as he set up a goal by Tyler Kennedy to extend the Pens' lead to 3-1.
Jokerit pulled their goalie with a little over a minute remaining in the game. Pascal Dupuis added an empty net goal to solidify the win for the Penguins. Crosby and Hal Gill assisted on the goal.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 4, Jokerit 1
Sidney Crosby looks like he is in mid-season form. Sid "the Ki..., eh, the Adult" picked up three assists against the Jokes.
This game appeared to be the first solid performance in goal by both Fleury and Sabourin. Although Fleury's first true test won't come until the back-to-back games against the Senators this weekend, this morning's performance surely left Therrien with a positive outlook for the season opener.
I realize that having an NHL team come to a European city is a pretty big deal. But c'mon, cheering when the opposition scores a goal against your home team? That's a joke, pun intended.
The Pens will board a flight back to Sweden later this afternoon, where they will prepare for their regular-season opener on Saturday at 2:30 PM (Pittsburgh time) against the Ottawa Senators.
Let's Go Pens.