I started this on my old Slashdot journal, which is why 5 games suddenly appeared on the 22nd. (BTW, I'm keeping my old posts around over there, if you want to stumble through the history.)
I'm going to try to be better at this, win or lose. Last year's 0-bazillion start kinda snuffed out my enthusiasm. No such trouble so far this year.
Before the season started, Mario Lemieux requested that there be no ceremony for the re-retirement of #66. Of course, the Penguins couldn't let the moment go without some acknowledgment of Mario's great career, so they found a nice compromise. They started the pre-game ceremonies by bringing down the lights, and playing a brief video tribute narrated by Sidney Crosby. While the video played, they quietly lowered his new banner from the roof under cover of darkness, then turned the spotlights on it as Crosby's tribute ended and the familiar refrain of Tina Turner's "Simply The Best" began. One last standing ovation for the man in the owner's box, then on with the show. This year's theme was "March of the Penguins", complete with real penguins waddling out from the Zamboni entrance and a half-decent Morgan Freeman impersonator. Not half as corny as last year's "Grandpa" show. Clarks' lead singer Scott Blasey sang the Star-Spangled Banner. He's a great rock vocalist, but when he applies that sound to a national anthem, he sounds half in the bag. Why mess with the good thing they have in Jeff Jimerson? The only reason he's not recognized as the best anthem singer in the NHL is because he's nowhere near as cute as Lauren Hart.
Oh, and they actually played a hockey game. At least Pittsburgh did. Philadelphia apparently saw "@ PIT" on the first line of their schedule, figured they had an extra pre-season game, and only turned the dial up to about 8. The Pens, they were cranked up to 11.
If they were trying to make a statement tonight, boy howdy, did they ever make it: "We may not win every night, but we will not be out-hustled, pushed around, or be slept on this year. We will not be disrespected." This year's free agent signings didn't dazzle the hockey world, but they added feisty and mean to the lineup, and it was on display tonight. Put simply, Broad Street got bullied. The highlight was early in the second, when Colby Armstrong plastered Sami Kapanen with a shoulder check, then pummeled Nolan Baumgartner in the ensuing fight. The game stayed chippy the rest of the way.
All four lines contributed to this win, with the third line of Jarkko Ruutu, Dominic Moore, and Michel Ouellet delivering the greatest impact. Ruutu had 1 goal, 1 assist, and 20 Flyers wanting to cross-check him in the face. Ouellet also had a goal and an assist, and Moore led a penalty killing unit that got entirely too much work tonight. (From this homer's perspective, the Flyers got away with far more than the Pens did.) That imbalance in power-play time led to a ton of shots for Marc-Andre Fleury.
I spent most of the third period thinking, "OK, here's where Fleury gives up one of those momentum-killing soft goals. This PK is going to be the one." And it never happened. Fleury played the most complete game of his career under a barrage of power-play shots.
Robert Esche, not so good. The Ruutu goal was a tough bounce, but Ouellet's goal was an innocent wrister that Esche didn't seem to pick up, and he was just plain beaten by Sidney Crosby and Josef Melichar.
Let me say that again, in case you're having trouble wrapping your brain around the concept: Robert Esche got torched by Josef Melichar.
Esche eventually settled down (17 of 21), but not until he had given up 4 goals on only 11 shots. Antero Niitymaki, even though he was dressed, was too hurt to really play, so Esche knew he had to ride this one out, and better luck tomorrow.
Final score: Penguins 4, Flyers 0, Ken Hitchcock's blood pressure 200/125.
Stars of the game:
- Marc-Andre Fleury (40/40)
- Sidney Crosby (1G, 1A)
- Jarkko Ruutu (1G, 1A)