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January 22, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
The 2008-09 NHL season started this afternoon.
No, seriously, it did. I rib you not. They actually played two games. The Rangers and Lightning Bolts kicked things off in Prague, with the Blueshirts prevailing 2-1 on a Steve Dubinsky goal. And then over in Sweden, the Penguins beat the Senators 4-3 in overtime courtesy of Tyler Kennedy.
And both games were held in hockey arenas. Thereís absolutely no truth to the rumors they were played under rocks.
I missed the Bolts and Rangers since, you know, I donít usually look to watch hockey at noon on a Saturday. But I was able to catch the Birds and Sens. It was quite the tilt. Itís a shame it didnít count. Oh, wait, no it did count. The season started. I forgot.
Just 40 seconds into the game, Pittsburgh got on the board first when Kennedy cycled behind the Ottawa net and took a nifty pass from Jordan Staal before wheeling into the left circle and whipping a shot behind Gerber.
Nice effort from Kennedy. Gerber? Not so much. For some reason, call it serendipity or, I donít know, maybe a complete lack of goaltending fundamentals, Gerber played the shot from his knees, and he was about eight inches off the post. Kennedy had all sorts of room short-side, yet his shot actually went between Gerberís blocker and body. But donít worry, Ottawa fans. Goaltending is overrated.
The Senators drew even at 9:13 of the first when the dynamic duo of Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan combined to work their magic. You canít stop McAmmond and Donovan. You can only hope not to have to watch them on a regular basis.
McAmmond, working out of the corner along the left wing wall, threw a puck towards the cage, and Donovan redirected it short-side on a helpless Fleury. Anyone but McAmmond and Donovan, and Iíd say the goal was lucky. But theyíre very good.
Sarcasm is fun. But not as fun as scoring on the power play. The Penguins could have blown this game open on the man-advantage but squandered five power plays in the first period alone. Has anyone seen Whitney and Gonchar?
While they couldnít get anything going on the man-advantage, the Penguins grabbed a 2-1 lead at 3:18 of the middle frame thanks to Evgeni Malkinís first career shorthanded goal. Filip Kubaís attempted shoot-in bounced off Chris Neil and sprung Malkin for a breakaway. With Christoph Schubert in hot pursuit, Geno the Scoring Machine-o cruised in and made a solitary move to his backhand, stuffing a shot under Gerberís outstretched left pad.
Dany Heatley knotted things on the power play at 12:15 of the second, blistering a quick snapper from the slot over Marc-Andre Fleuryís left shoulder. It was quite the display. Spezza centered a puck from the left wing corner. Heatley had to take the pass on his backhand, and the biscuit hopped in the air. After gravity did its stuff, Heatley pulled the trigger on his forehand, firing a laser rocket shot through a sliding Malkin and over Fleury.
At 17:55 of the second, Ottawa took the lead with a shorthanded goal of its own. The Sens broke in 3-on-2, with Spezza lugging the puck on right wing and Jarkko Ruutu busting to the far post. Spezza hit the dot and unleashed a wicked wrister, piping it top shelf short-side. Take that, sobriety!
Having already blown the lead, Pittsburgh added to its misery with a pair of penalties 30 seconds apart in the final minute of the period. The Sens opened the third with a two-man advantage for 1:21, but they couldnít muster a single shot against the likes of Staal, Max Talbot, Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Rob Scuderi, and Brooks Orpik.
The penalties murdered, Pittsburgh needed to find the equalizer. Thatís where guys like Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney come in handy. But Gonchar? The Penguins donít need no stinking Gonchar? Theyíve got Rob Scuderi!
Thatís right, Scuderi, No. 4 in your program but No. 1 in your heart, got all Bobby Orr on the filthy Senators, taking a beautiful cross-ice pass from Kid Crosby and wristing a shot through Gerber to tie the game at 3:56. It was Scuderiís first goal in 96 games. Crosby went and got the puck for him. Good times, good times.
Crosby orchestrated the whole play, gaining the line and drifting towards the right wing boards before threading a pass back across to Scuderi coming late on the left side. Not many guys could make that play. Crosbyís better than you. Deal with it.
The rest of the third was played on even terms without many chances, although Spezza did fumble a glorious look from the slot. The Sens almost got a fluke winner in the final seconds when an errant centering attempt caught Fleury in the glove and skipped off the post. So close.
Kennedy closed the show with a remarkable individual effort with 25 seconds remaining in overtime. Spezza tried to waltz around Kennedy at the Pittsburgh stripe and coughed up the puck. Kennedy raced the other way, streaking into the Ottawa zone on left wing and beating Gerber with a wrister from the circle.
Great win for the Penguins. Itís just a shame it doesnít count. No, wait, it does count. Sorry, I forgot already. The season started. My bad.
The two clubs will meet again Sunday. Donít forget to set your alarm clocks.
Tyler Kennedy: Petr Sykora was out with a groin injury, so Kennedy got to skate on the second line with Malkin and Staal. He certainly seized the opportunity. Sykora isnít expected to play until the Birds get stateside. Once the Czech sniper returns, Kennedy could find himself on the fourth line.
Marc-Andre Fleury: The Flower stopped 32 of 35, and he looked very composed and calm in net. The Donovan goal was luck, and the Heatley and Spezza shots were ridiculous. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the shooter. Fleury looked every bit the netminder who carried the Penguins to the Cup Finals.
Letang was also a fixture on the power play, seeing 8:26 at the point. Sure, the Penguin man-advantage finished the night 0-for-7, but it was hardly Letangís fault. He showed good poise and carried the puck up ice with authority.
Kid Crosby: Iím on record saying Kid Crosby will shoot the puck more this season, and he registered five shots on the night. So far so good. He also played 24:53, perhaps indicating Michel Therrien is finally willing to turn him loose.
Oh, and Crosby destroyed Chris Kelly with a shoulder check during a Penguin power play. Kelly had him lined up, but Sid merely stood his ground, dropping the Senator like a big bag of suck.
Jason Spezza: Granted, Spezza made his customary boneheaded giveaway in overtime, leading to Kennedyís winner, but he still deserves mentioning. Now that Spezza is high on life, he was flying out there. Iíve never seen him skate faster. He looked like a young Mike Modano, with his jersey blowing in the wind behind him and whatnot. It was awesome.
And did you see his goal? Egad.
Dany Heatley: Heatley took six shots, and they all had bad intentions. He can shoot the pill. If the first game was any indication, there could be another 50-goal season in the works.
Jarkko Ruutu: Ruutu had a fairly solid game in his Senators debut, finishing plus-1 in 14:36. He created two odd-man breaks while shorthanded, one with Alfredsson and the other on Spezzaís goal. He didnít get too chippy with his former teammates, though he did mix it up a bit with Max Talbot after a whistle and took a sneaky hard Dupuis slash to the left hand.
Christoph Schubert: He only played 6:25, but Schubert is a beast. Every time I see this guy heís an absolute terror.
Yeah, Iím sure Neil will play up how smart he was for drawing a hooking penalty on Godard, opening the door for Heatleyís power-play marker, but where I come from that kind of ďsmartĒ is yella.
How is what Neil did any different than what Tucker did to Neil back in the day? Neil ran Letang from behind, which is the equivalent of Tucker fighting Eaves. When Godard challenged Neil, he should have went. Respect the code.
Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson (no split yet)