A look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, their 50th season, and some history of Pittsburgh hockey.
As former Penguin forward Bob Errey, now the Pens’ television color analyst, stands in the space between the players benches and talks to Paul Steigerwald up here in the press box, with TV cameras rolling, a few feet away is an old teammate of Errey’s. This old teammate is not another player turned broadcaster or a player turned coach. He’s not an official nor driving the Zamboni.
Bob Errey retired from pro hockey in 1999. That was 17 years ago. That old teammate is still a hockey player, playing for the visiting Florida Panthers. He has played for teams in Pittsburgh, Washington, New York (Rangers), New Jersey, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, Florida, and a stint in Russia. He is 44 years old and teams are still signing him to contacts, albeit one-year contracts. Nonetheless, teams still feel he can contribute, and apparently, he still does.
He has been the league scoring champion five times. He has won two Stanley Cups, both with Bob Errey. He is the seemingly ageless Jaromir Jagr. As position players go, Jagr is third all-time in age, only behind Habs’/Wings’/Hawks’ Chris Chelios (48) and the man himself, Gordie Howe, who played until he as 52. Yikes!!
But that was then and this is now.
Jagr is back in Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby is back in the Pittsburgh line-up. He played his first game of the season after recovering from his third concussion. Back also, is second year goaltender Matt Murray, albeit in a back-up role (but not just any back-up…a Stanley Cup winning back-up) which means goaltender Mike Condon goes back to the Scranton Baby Pens (eventually traded to Ottawa). At least he did get to see some 20 minutes of action in this early season in that 5-1 loss to the Predators before returning to the minors.
On another historic note, center Matt Cullen played in his 1300th game tonight. How many for Jagr? 1636.
The flow of the first period was, shall we say…relaxed. There was some neutral zone play, some off-sides, some blocked shots, some missed shots, a few saves…nothing to write home about…a typical Florida Panthers’ snoozer.
Pens’ winger Patric Horqvist took a hooking call at 4:20 of the first period. Fleury made the requisite saves and the penalty killers did the rest, and Horqvist was set free. At the end of the penalty, Fleury made a nice glove save on Panthers’ fourth line winger Shane Harper from the high slot.
At 8:14, defenseman Trevor Daley was called for tripping. Once again, the penalty killers did the job. But with 2:18 left in the period, defenseman Brian Dumoulin went off for high-sticking. Again, the Pens could not stay out of the box and this time they paid for it. Right wing Reilly Smith scored on a backhand after Fleury kicked out a rebound from a shot by defenseman Michael Matheson. 1-0 Florida. Once again, the Pens have given up that all important first goal. 15 seconds later, the Cats were on the doorstep again but Fleury was there.
Chris Kunitz had a quality chance at 4:39 of the second period but goalie James Reimer was there with the glove. Reimer was in goal for the veteran Roberto Luongo who was sitting on the bench for reasons
unknown. At 6:08 of the second period, Florida winger Shane Harper fed defenseman Mark Pysyk from the left circle. Pysyk was coming down the slot and poked it in right past Fleury’s glove. It was 2-0.
At 7:29, Olli Maatta and David Warsofsky both had quality shots on goalie Reimer but he was solid in the net. With 10:44 left in the second period, after a Fleury save, it was Wilson to Crosby to Hornqvist and back to Crosby, who was stopped by Reimer, but Florida winger Jaromir Jagr was called for hooking. The Pens’ had their first power play. Reimer had a quick save on Crosby nine seconds later.
It’s interesting to note that at this point in the season, the famed HBK line has only scored one goal, by Phil Kessel.
With 6:28 left in period two, defenseman Trevor Daley was decked by a high-stick off left wing Greg McKegg, which sent Daley to the locker room. The Pens’ had another power play to try and get back in this game, and get back they did. From the ensuing face off, which was won by Crosby, the puck went behind the Florida cage and came out to Kessel, who dealt it to Malkin who dealt it to Crosby for his first goal of the season. Welcome back Sid. 2-1 Panthers.
With 4:25 left, Bryan Rust had a quality back-hander from six feet. Reimer was there. Another golden chance happened for the Pens with less than two minutes left in the period. Reimer stopped both winger Scott Wilson in the slot and center Sidney Crosby next to the net.
Fleury made an important save just 25 seconds into the third because a third goal by Florida at this point could prove too much for the Pens. Seconds later, Reimer made a great left-toe save on Matt Cullen at point blank range.
The Panthers played stout defense for most of the game, except at 3:35 into the period, Phil Kessel found himself all alone on the right wing and rang it off the crossbar. Then at 5:37 in, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust had a two on one with Hagelin coming down the right side and he wristed one past Reimer for the tying 2-2 goal. The fans went nuts. They could feel it coming…another comeback like in the San Jose game. Could it be? Hagelin scored his first of the campaign. Now only Bonino is scoreless on the HBK line.
As winger Tom Kuhnhackl skated down the left wing full speed, he had right wing Eric Fehr with him across the ice. As Fehr told it after the game, he expected Kuhnhackl to dump it in and they would both go on the forecheck. But when both Panther defensemen Michael Matheson and Jason Demers converged on Kunhhackl, Fehr waited for the cross-ice pass…and he got it…right on his blade and popped it in on Reimer for the go-ahead goal. 3-2 Pens midway through the third, their first lead of the game.
With 8:36 left in the third, Evgeni Malkin took a tripping penalty. Fleury needed to shut the door on Florida and he did, with the help of the fourth line of the Pens, who stymied the Panthers in the third.
Both teams played without a whistle for the last seven minutes of the game, which gave Reimer little chance to leave the net as time ticked down. Then with 30 seconds left, winger Reilly Smith was tripped but there was no call. Florida head coach Gerard Gallant was incensed,
The call would have given the Cats a face-off in the Pens’ zone, which would have enabled them to pull Reimer from the net, giving the Cats a six on four power play. Instead, the face off was in front of Reimer in net and he didn’t manage to get out until the :17 mark. There was a flurry on Fleury but the Panthers went south with their tails between their legs, and into the night. Meow!
Another come from behind win for the Pens. Welcome back captain Sidney Crosby. 3-2 Pens.
It’s old business now, how the 1975 Penguins blew a 3-0 lead over the New York Islanders in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s also old news about the marathon brawl between these two clubs in Pittsburgh on February 2, 2011, where Pittsburgh goaltender Brett Johnson decked Islanders’ goaltender Rick DiPietro with a single left hook, ala, Muhammad Ali, during a bench clearing brawl. The marathon continued nine days later in the rematch in New York, where both teams set a record for penalty minutes in a game at 346. The game included 65 penalties, 15 fighting majors and 21 game misconducts. Ouch!
Quite frankly, it was embarrassing for the league but the fans loved it. Even Mario was disgusted about it.
But that was then and this is now.
In the first minute of the game, Isles’ captain, centerman John Travares, took a hooking penalty on defenseman Brian Dumoulin. The Pens had a rare early power play. It didn’t take long to score. Within seconds it was Malkin to Kessel to Crosby to Hornqvist… and goalie Jaroslav Halak needed a lazy Susan for his head to keep up with the crisp passes the Pens were making. This came about from a face-off in the left circle because the puck drop was moved inside the zone due to an Islander touching the puck before it went over the glass. Pens’ captain Sid Crosby had a chance on Halak just three minutes in but missed the net. Crosby has more goals against the Isles than any other club.
At 5:05 in, defenseman Justin Schultz went off for high-sticking. On the delayed penalty, John Travares had a golden opportunity on the doorstep in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but Fleury was strong in goal. On the ensuing penalty, winger Carl Hagelin, who has yet to score this year, came in short-handed from the left circle on Halak, but could not get it past Halak’s body.
Then on one up-ice rush, Fleury had to make three saves…one on defenseman Ryan Pulock from the blue line, one on left wing Andrew Ladd from six feet away, made with Fleury’s right toe pad, and then one on right wing Josh Bailey, from five feet, with Fleury’s right arm, between Bailey and the open net…all in about four seconds. The crowd erupted.
As the New York power play wound down, Isles’ right wing Cal Clutterbuck was called for goaltender interference, making it four on four play for less than a minute. Crosby had a chance to score but passed it to Evgeni Malkin, who fanned as the puck passed through his legs.
With 8:55 left in the period, center Sid Crosby, who was on his game, and has been since his return from a concussion to start the season, had a nice scoring chance from the right circle dot that was wristed off the right shoulder of netminder Halak, who then had to clear the puck from the paint with his stick.
At 6:50 left, center Shane Prince for New York, got behind the Pittsburgh defense and was in all alone on Fleury. Prince backhanded it from the right doorstep, Fleury flopped forward to grab it but the puck rang off the post. The Pens’ Cole, Wilson and Dumoulin all peppered Halak with shots at 5:30 or so left in the first. Halak stood tall, even when winger Chris Kunitz came swooping in from the right wing at the five-minute mark left in the first with a hard wrister.
With 3:30 left, New York center Casey Cizikas was called for holding on Matt Cullen, a fourth line center. That couldn’t have sat well for Islanders’ head coach Jack Capuano. On this power play, the Pens dominated, pestering the Isles with shot after shot, either blocked or stopped by Halak.
In the first minute of the second period, the Pens has a tic-tac-toe play with Hornqvist to Crosby to Daley in the slot, but Halak stopped him with his right pad, rebounding the puck back to Daley, who missed the net. Halak made another nice save on defenseman Justin Schultz moments later.
At 5:04 in, the Pens’ David Warsofsky went off for hooking New York’s Cizikas as he came in on Fleury, who made the glove save. At 5:40, winger Andrew Ladd was in point blank range and Fleury made an unbelievable save with his right pad. Ladd then fed right wing Ryan Strome and Fleury stopped that too.
At 7:12 in, a quick feed from behind the net to Shane Prince was stuffed by Fleury point blank. So far, Fleury and Crosby are the difference in this game. Fleury was extremely sharp throughout the first half of the game, making many quick-time saves on quick shots popping out from behind the net to the blades of various Isles. Clearly, he was in the zone.
There were plenty of shots and scoring chances for both teams in the second period but goaltending was strong for both teams. The Islanders were dominating on shots in the period and steadily were taking the momentum away in the game.
The Pens had a chance with five minutes left in period two when they had a four on three rush, but Halak made a kick save on Crosby and Daley missed on the rebound. The Isles came back with an odd man rush of their own at 4:47 left to score on a left circle feed from center Shane Prince to defenseman Travis Hamonic in the right circle, to tie it at 1-1.
Then Fleury was called for tripping Isles’ Andrew Ladd in front of the Pens’ net. Kuhnhackl served the penalty. On the New York power play, defenseman Johnny Boychuk had a shot at the top of the slot but Fleury made the save with two plus minutes left in the period. With seven seconds left, Malkin went off for holding on left wing Anders Lee. The Isles would start the third period with almost a full two-minute penalty.
Ryan Strome took a high-sticking penalty early in the third on Trevor Daley to even it at four on four play. Upon Malkin’s release from the box, the Pens had a one-minute power play but Chris Kunitz took a tripping penalty on winger Clutterbuck and it was back to four on four. Now New York would have a one-minute penalty with the release of center Strome from the box which produced nothing.
Neither team could penetrate the other in the third, as goaltending was everything. For the Pens, Kessel, Kuhnhackl, Kunitz, Wilson, Schultz and Crosby, all had significant chances on the Isles, but Halak was stellar. The scoring and domination that the Isles had in the second was recaptured by the Pens in the third.
The Isles called a time out at 9:34 left to stem the tide of the Pens. At 9:23 left, winger Scott Wilson had a doorstep chance on goalie Halak but was taken down by defenseman Calvin de Haan, while defenseman Dennis Seidenberg slashed Wilson’s stick. No calls were made.
Pens’ defenseman Ian Cole had two one-time slappers from inside the blue line, both passes from Brian Dumoulin, inside of eight minutes left. Halak made stops through traffic. Then seconds later, winger Phil Kessel sailed down the right side and fed center Evgeni Malkin, who was in front of him, and Malkin, using a defenseman as a screen, slid it past Halak’s body. The Pens had another lead, 2-1. The crowd came alive.
With 5:42 left, Malkin went off for another tripping call…a chance for New York to tie the game. In that power play for New York, Halak had to stop a great chance short-handed on center Matt Cullen, but the Isles came rushing back and Fleury stopped right wing Josh Bailey from point blank range. Cullen cleared the rebound.
However, with 4:23 left in the period, Fleury went behind the net and mishandled a bad bounce from a dump-in off the boards by left wing Brock Nelson. The puck squirted out in front of the goal and center Shane Prince popped it in. Fleury, attempting to poke check the biscuit away from Prince, just laid there with his face in his arms on the ice. The game was tied again, 2-2.
Kuntiz had a chance at 2:54 left but missed the net. But this just served to make the game more dramatic as the Pens have been coming back in the third period a lot this season and winning it. This game would be no different. With 2:25 left, Sid the Kid Crosby poked it in for the 3-2 lead after a shot on Halak. Crosby did not even wait for the rebound from Halak on a Scott Wilson shot from the right circle. He poked it in before Halak could even touch it.
This was no time for New York to take a penalty, not when your goalie is going to be pulled for an extra skater, but then they did. Andrew Ladd was called for boarding on Phil Kessel. Kessel scored on a shot from the high slot. 4-2 Pittsburgh.
Halak was pulled anyway now that they were down by two goals. Kessel, who hadn’t scored all season, now had three goals in two games and a three point night, Only Nick Benino has yet to score from the HBK line
which is now broken up as Kessel is a winger for Malkin on the right side on the second line. Patric Hornqvist hit the left post on the empty net with 15 seconds left, but no matter. Pens win, 4-2.
The Philadelphia Flyers celebrate their 50th season in the NHL as do the Penguins. They were part of that first league expansion in 1967 with the Pens, that also included the St Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) and the California Seals (based in Oakland), who were the WHL’s San Francisco Seals, that became the California Seals, that became the Oakland Seals, and then became the California Golden Seals, who eventually moved and became the Cleveland Barons, who eventually merged with the Minnesota North Stars, who became the Dallas Stars.
Are you still with me on this?
And as a side note, before the Seals moved to Cleveland, they were slated to move to Denver and the bankrupt Penguins were slated to move to Seattle in 1975. North Stars head-coach Wren Blair intervened and kept the Pens from moving by buying the club with some other investors, eventually selling the team to shopping mall magnate Edward Debartalo in Youngstown, who would own the club during the first two Stanley Cup years. Blair was the general manager for the Pens from 1975-1976, replacing Jack Riley.
In a pre-game ceremony, along with others from that 1967 Flyers’ line-up, the Flyers’ John LeClair, who had a brief time with the Pens from 2005-06, and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, a Pen from 1977-79, were honored. Pens’ assistant coach Rick Tochet was also a Flyer from 1984-92 and a Penguin from 1992-94, winning one cup with the Pens.
But that was then and this is now.
And this is Philly vs. Pittsburgh. This game should (and eventually did) prove to be exciting.
In the first 30 seconds of the first period, the Flyers had multiple chances to score, but Fleury was there. The crowd was alive for this long-standing rivalry of epic proportions. Even this early in the season, a Pens-Flyers match is epic. The crowd already had the “Crosby chant” going. Crosby is hated nowhere like he is in Philly.
Both teams exchanged scoring opportunities in the period. The pace was spirited. Philly decided to employ a 1-3-1 defense early in the contest, something most teams use later in the game while playing with a lead.
With 9:40 left in the first, the best Flyers chance to score came with a shot from center Sean Couturier in the slot. Fleury made the save, Seconds later, right wing Jakub Vorachek scored from inside the blue line that glanced off Fleury’s glove. Another first goal given up by Pittsburgh. 1-0 Flyers.
With seven minutes left in the first, Fleury once again was victimized by a bad bounce off the end boards which caromed in front of the net. Fleury dove out, attempting one of his classic poke-checks, but missed. With Fleury sprawled out on the ice, center Brayden Schenn skated in front of the net, and back-handed one to right wing Wayne Simmonds, who put it in on the forehand. 2-0 Flyers. The Pens are 0-2 on the road, having been outscored 11-1.
With 4:25 left in the period, Pens’ centerman Sidney Crosby had a scoring chance alone, but goaltender Steve Mason made the stop. The Philly crowd was loving it. Crosby attempted to score on a high backhand.
With 4:30 left, Flyers’ defenseman Nick Schultz, standing in the slot, fired the puck which hit Fleury’s glove and then the right post. This created a situation for the Pens to come back into the Philly zone
where center Sidney Crosby, fed from Scott Wilson, came cruising down the left wing and fed Patric Hornqvist on his right, who fed Crosby, who put it past Steve Mason on a very sharp angle. It was 2-1 Flyers, with 4:16 left in the first.
With 3:45 left, the Pens went on the power play after Ivan Provorov hooked Pens’ winger Bryan Rust. The Pens had no power play goals on the road. That would change quickly. Malkin to Schultz to Kessel to Horqvist to Crosby…to a tie game. Flyers 2, Crosby 2.
12 seconds later, it was Kunhackl to Cullen, who emerged from behind the net, and stuffed it in on a wrap around. And just like that, it was 3-2 Pittsburgh, in just 55 seconds time. How quickly things can change with the Pittsburgh Penguins on the ice. What was nearly 3-0 Flyers, was now 3-2 Pens. Steve Mason was gone after one period in goal to be replaced by Michael Neuvirth..
The second period proved to be much like the first, with plenty of scoring chances for both teams with a continued high spirited pace. Five minutes into the period, after Philly goalie Michael Neuvirth stopped Crosby in front of the Flyers net, the Flyers came racing back to the Pens’ net with center Sean Couturier screaming down through the left circle, passing it off to Travis Konecny, who was stripped of the puck at the right post by the back-checking Chris Kunitz. The Pens did not clear the zone however and defenseman Ian Cole took a holding penalty at 5:16 in. Marc-Andre Fleury made multiple saves on Philadelphia on their power play to preserve the Pens’ slim lead.
At 9:38 into the period, as the Flyers attempted to clear their zone, Chris Kunitz made a great play at the blue line to keep the puck in and then fed winger Phil Kessel at the right circle, who then fed center Evgeni Malkin at the left doorstep, who poked it in past Neuvirth to make it 4-2 Pittsburgh.
With 8:43 left, Ian Cole went off for holding on Jakub Voracek. Near the end of the power play, the Flyers’ Mark Streit took a hooking penalty on Phil Kessel but Kessel was busted for embellishment, so the Flyers now had a four on three power play. Very quickly, the Flyers were on the board. As the Pens attempted to clear the puck from their zone, Philly defenseman Radko Gudas stopped the puck at the blue line, first with his body, then with his hand as he fell to the ice, then with his stick when Matt Cullen tried to clear the puck. The puck was then picked up by right winger Wayne Simmonds who passed it to center Claude Giroux, who buried it into the net past Fleury.
Pens’ coach Mike Sullivan challenged the goal on the basis of the play being off-sides. At first, the notion was that Gudas let the puck cross the blue line in his desperate attempts to keep the puck in the zone, but in truth, the officials were looking at whether right wing Wayne Simmonds had entered the zone before the puck did, 11 seconds earlier to start the zone play. In the end, there was not clear evidence to overturn the call.
With a 4-3 Pens’ lead, the Pens and Flyers traded solid scoring chances but both netminders were up to the task. At the 4:30 mark remaining in the period, right wing Jakub Voracek of Philadelphia got behind the Pittsburgh defense and was in all alone on Fleury. As he raced down the slot, he was pulled down by Pens’ defenseman Brian Dumoulin. Voracek was awarded a penalty shot, which he scored on to tie the game at 4-4. Voracek weaved back and forth and stick handled the puck a few times, scoring on his back-hand. Fleury’s defense attempt was the poke check, which failed.
In the last four minutes of the period, the Flyers had many attempts on the Pens’ net. The momentum had changed drastically. It was all Philly except for one attempt by Bryan Rust with a wrap around on Neuvirth which failed. With seconds left, Pens’ winger Scott Wilson was sent off for tripping. The Flyers would start the third period on the power play.
Philly’s Simmonds had a doorstep chance one minute in on the power play but failed. Two minutes in, Fleury had to make another save on Flyer’s captain Claude Giroux and then another on Jakub Voracek. Three minutes in, Simmonds was in all alone on Fleury who made the save.
About six minutes in, Pens’ defenseman Justin Schultz, trying to score his first goal of the year, came in the Flyers’ zone, juked around defenseman Brandon Manning, and fired on Neuvirth, who made the save. After that, Fleury made a huge save on Simmonds and Giroux.
At 11:36 left, Malkin had a shot on goal that was blocked by center Sean Courturier, who was playing defensively in his zone. Malkin got the puck back seconds later, threw it out front, and then scored on Neuvirth after coming from behind the net and receiving a pass from Olli Maatta. Malkin scored his 300th goal and took the Pens to a 5-4 lead.
The Pens went on a power play with just over eight minutes left when Jakub Voracek went off for holding. Fleury stopped a short-handed shot from Radko Gudas…not from the Pens’ zone, nor from the blue line, nor from center red, but from the Flyers’ goal line…the entire length of the ice, a shot that was right on the net.
With 5:15 left, Crosby, coming in from the right circle, leaning hard to his left like a downhill skier, shot the puck on goal with his right (stick) hand, while removing the stick from defenseman Mark Streit (who dove to defend against Crosby) with his left hand. Goaltender Michael Neuvirth made the save,
With four minutes left, the Flyers felt desperation. Fleury stopped Gostisbehere and Gudas on chances. At 1:30 left, Philly pulled Neuvirth from the net. There were chances but they were futile. The Penguins win it 5-4 against the hated Flyers in Philadelphia. Happy 50th year Philly!
Lee Kann is a film/radio/concert producer, and a writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Due to the lateness of the Penguins’ west coast road trip, there will be no week2week coverage of last weeks’ games.