For a lot of people, a 4:05 start on a Saturday night is unheard of in these parts.
The Penguins started this game, their home opener of the 2015-16 campaign, three hours before the usual scheduled start time of 7:05.
In the first 5:06 of the game, the Penguins were down 3-0 before they knew what hit them, and things looked really bleak.
But the game of hockey is sixty minutes, not five minutes. They settled, and overcame the Lehigh Valley Phantoms by a score of 6-4 tonight, going 4-for-7 on the power play.
Matt Murray opposed Lehigh Valley’s backup Jason LaBarbera, after the Phantoms bussed in overnight from Springfield last night.
Scott Wilson – Kael Mouillierat – Conor Sheary
Dominik Simon – Carter Rowney – Josh Archibald
Dominik Uher – Oskar Sundqvist – Tom Kostopoulos
Tom Sestito – J-S Dea – Matia Marcantuoni;
Derrick Pouliot – Steve Olesky
Reid McNeill – David Warsofsky
Niclas Andersen – Will O’Neill
Matt Murray – Tristan Jarry
Harrison Ruopp took the warmup but was scratched.
First Period: Quick start by the Phantoms: Petr Straka banged home a rebound after Chris Conner got a step on a guy to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead at 1:11; Jay Rosehill picked a pocket of a Penguin in the defensive zone after Wilkes-Barre had become careless with their exit passes and scored at 3:31; and Tim Brent scored a power play goal after he connected with a stretch pass, and made a move to give the Phantoms a 3-0 lead at 5:06.
Phantoms weren’t done. More relentless pressure forced the Penguins into an icing.
Then, a turning point.
Matt Murray made a money save on Jesper Pettersson to set up a rush the other way which washed out as a Wilkes-Barre / Scranton power play. Will O’Neill stepped into one from the far hash to give the Penguins life on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Penguins started to roll and create chances. They played 15 minutes of great hockey predicated by 5 minutes of awful hockey that cost them three goals.
Second Period: Penguins had carryover power play time from the first. Tom Kostopoulos scored on a rebound of a Scott Wilson power move to the net to bring the Penguins to within a goal.
About 4 minutes later, Niclas Andersen stepped into one from the blue line to tie the game at three a piece.
The Penguins kept coming. The Phantoms kept putting themselves down taking penalty after penalty. Will O’Neill stepped into one from the right dot for a one timer, power play goal for a 4-3 Penguins lead.
Later, the Pens made it a two goal lead when Dominik Simon ripped a shot over the glove of LaBarbera on the power play to make it 5-3. It was Simon’s first goal on North American soil.
This week, Coach Mike Sullivan focused on special teams. It worked. Three power plays in the period to bring the Penguins back from dead and looking good heading into the…
Third Period: The Penguins got too cute with their exit passes again in the defensive zone and played loose and Nick Cousins made them pay to being Lehigh Valley back within one with 18:15 left to play in the game.
But the Penguins never allowed the equalizer thanks in part to the play in goal by Matt Murray. Murray was stellar with shot after shot heading his way. Taking away the first five minutes of the game tonight, Murray was a star of the game.
But you never know. The Penguins could have used another goal to give them a cushion and to crush the spirits of the Phantoms once and for all. Who are you going to call? The captain, tom Kostopoulos, that’s who. He took a pass off the short wall from Oskar Sundqvist, floated in the slot and ripped one past LaBarbera for insurance, and a 6-4 Penguins lead that held for good.
Three Stars: 3) Will O’Neill (two goals, -1) 2) Dominik Simon (goal, three assists, +1) and 1) Tom Kostopoulos (two goals, assist, -2)
Around the Division: Bridgeport still has yet to lose. They lead the division and the conference remaining undefeated after beating Providence 3-1…Hartford shutout Utica 3-0…Portland tripped up Hershey 3-2. The Springfield Falcons were the only team in the Atlantic Division off tonight.
Standings: The AHL is doing this with percentages this year, so points don’t matter at all, but in the Eastern Conference where all the teams play the same amount of games, I am just going to base these off of points. Here they are: Bridgeport 10 — Penguins 4 — Hartford 4 — Portland 2 — Hershey 2 — Providence 4 (again, the AHL is using percentages and not points, Hershey is a .500 team with 2 points divided by 4 available) and Springfield – 0.
Conference look is moot because they aren’t doing top eight this year. I will figure out a way to let the reader know if the Pens are a playoff team. Way too early for that.
Let’s take a look at the postgame infographic, since I asked for it and the Penguins delivered…
Wheeling Update: The Nailers lost their first game of the season in Norfolk by a score of 4-2. Anton Zlobin was injured on a hit by Gabriel Verpaelst and did not return. Jarrett Burton had the two goals. The Nailers were down 3-0 and got it to 3-2 late, but with Brian Foster pulled, they gave up an empty netter. Foster stopped 20 of 23 shots.
If the Pens put up a YouTube package, I’ll embed it here. If not, the Gameday setup for tomorrow’s tilt up in Bridgeport will hit the blog at 1 p.m. for the 5 p.m. start.
Let’s Go Pens!!