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March 25, 2019
Helsinki Autograph Hunt
by Timo Laitinen, Finnish Correspondent
For readers who have never been in Hartwall Arena, Jaffa is the most famous local soft drink in Finland, and while it's being made by a company named Hartwall, the arena actually resembles a soft drink can, hence the nickname "Jaffa Can".
I have never seen the Penguins live, and it was pretty much worth it as such. A 37-year-old hockey fan can still get strange vibes when actually seeing today's heroes in live action.
The Jokers were equally awed, or so it seemed. First period started with huge applause, as our only local Penguin hero Janne Pesonen started the match alongside Staal and Malkin because of Sykora's flu that still prevented him from playing.
The first couple of shifts did not promise anything resembling real hockey match; Penguins took it easy to see how hard Jokerit would push right from the start. The suspense in the arena grew to astronomical proportions as Jokerit did not actually do anything to attack, clearly awestruck by the last year's Stanley Cup finalists.
Instead, Penguins had the puck whenever they wanted, kept it exactly as long as they wanted, and set the pace exactly how they wanted. Obviously a good skating warm-up was needed, since Pens mainly stuck into passing the puck along with each other and skating circles around the white-dressed home team, who was trying to interfere with Penguins' evening practice.
A few minors were assessed to Jokerit throughout the first period for clear infractions at their end of the rink, and it did not take too many penalties for Malkin to cash in with his trademark slap shot from the blue line. Jokerit penalty killing was pretty passive, allowing Malkin to play the sole point man.
Goligoski had a few shifts on the power play and got mixed shifts throughout the match, and I guess he will do okay among the injury-depleted Pens defense corps since he did not stand out in anything bad. He also set up nicely for Malkin to drop the hammer, so I think the kid will do all right.
The rest of the period went on as it began, and a mere nine seconds away from the buzzer Fedotenko got on the scoresheet after Jokerit backpedaled, leaving the net the only place where he could put the biscuit.
Fortunately things changed a bit in the second period. Jokerit had regained a bit of their composure and started generating some offense. Orpik laid a couple of solid hits to take out the excessive confidence from Jokerit forwards. The period went on scoreless, and Penguins changed their netminder from The Flower to Sabourin a bit past the halfway mark. One of the most defining things for this match was when Sid the Kid was assessed a tripping minor in the second period. The first thing he had to do in the penalty box was to sign an autograph.
Jokerit got into the game in the third. Five minutes into the period, Orpik hooked Jokerit's Janne Lahti down on what looked like a solid scoring chance, and a penalty shot was assessed. Lahti took a simple approach and plainly wristed a shot past Sabourin to make it 2-1.
Five minutes later, the same guy was planning to score shorthanded, but his shot clanged off the crossbar. Shortly after, Pesonen carried the puck up the right lane. Kennedy was storming towards the net and Pesonen's pass did not leave Kennedy much difficulties with placing the puck past Riksman, Jokerit goaltender, to make the game 3-1.
The Jokers pulled their goalie a minute before the end and built a bit of pressure on the Pens' end while playing 6-on-4, until Sid the Kid regained the puck through hustle in the neutral zone and passed it on to Pascal Dupuis. Dupuis took a few strides and flung the puck in the empty net to conclude the match. Sid the Kid had three assists.
Lasting memories? Surely, since this was the first time I saw the Birds live. Hockey-wise? No.
Oh, one thing... there were no fights between Godard and Helenius or Nielikäinen, which was a bit of a surprise. Helenius anyway dropped his gloves right in the first regular season match, so I figure it would have been easier today to do that to give Jokerit some spark, but no.
Well, whatever. I'm adamant that hockey will be completely different on Saturday in Stockholm against Sens.
Said Hjallis Harkimo, the owner of the Jokerit team: "In the first period, they were just after autographs. After that, they dared to play a bit."