Scifo on the Pens – Crosby leads Penguins past Ducks in season opener

By Dan Scifo From the Point Contributor PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins may have endured an off-season of widespread change and personnel moves. But Sidney Crosby remains and, with the reigning NHL MVP leading the way, the Penguins resembled the same ultra-talented, high-powered groups of the past. Crosby enjoyed a three-point night with two goals and an assist, leading the Penguins to a season-opening, 6-4 victory against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. “It was the first game for both teams. There’s going to be mistakes, but we worked hard,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of sticking with it after losing the lead. We’ll have to keep getting better, but it’s nice to win.” There was no shortage of offense as Pittsburgh netted the first three goals in 13 minutes and Anaheim tied it in the second with a pair of Corey Perry goals in four minutes. The Penguins added three goals in a three-and-a-half-minute span, the last one a short-handed goal by Brandon Sutter 1:01 into the third period to make it a 6-3 game. That was enough to give Penguins’ coach Mike Johnston his first win as an NHL head coach. Johnston, the ninth head coach in franchise history to win his debut, replaced Dan Bylsma in the summer, taking over the reigning Metropolitan Division champions, who are looking to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009. “It was exciting for sure,” Johnston said. “The first game out of 82, it’s good to get a win and now we have some building blocks going forward.” Pascal Dupuis, back from a knee injury that ended his season in December, registered his first four-point game in a decade, while Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau also scored in their Pens’ debuts. Olli Maatta tallied the first three-assist night of his career and Sutter scored a short-handed goal. “The first game, you want to get the crowd into it and feed off their energy,” Crosby said. “You’re always excited to play the first one, but especially with so many new faces, I think we used that energy to our advantage.” Corey Perry led Anaheim with a hat trick while Ryan Kesler scored a power-play goal in his first game with the Ducks. Pittsburgh native John Gibson struggled in his homecoming with the Ducks, stopping just 33 of 39 shots. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves for the win. Evgeni Malkin, who had 23 goals and 72 points in 60 games last season, was on the ice for the opener against Anaheim after missing almost all of training camp — and practicing for the first time on Tuesday — with an undisclosed injury. Crosby, too, after last year’s NHL scoring champion skipped the start of the preseason with an injury before missing two games to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Crosby finished with 36 goals and a league-best 104 points last season, but scored just one goal in the playoffs where the Penguins collapsed during a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers, a series that saw Pittsburgh ahead, 3-1, before dropping the last three. That led to widespread changes, starting with the firing of Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero. The Penguins hired Jim Rutherford as their new general manager and Johnston as coach. They dealt high-scoring winger James Neal to Nashville and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen left via free agency. They acquired Hornqvist and Nick Spaling in the Neal trade, signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and also got a healthy Dupuis back after he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee last December. Dupuis’ return, and his four-point night, certainly gave the Penguins a lift. “I think you’re just really happy to see him do well,” Crosby said. “It’s been a long time and you know how hard he worked to get back here. To start on time, it’s not easy coming back from injury and playing Game 1 of the season. I’m happy for him. He worked hard for it.” The Ducks averaged an NHL-best 3.21 goals per game en route to a club record 116 points, but they also dealt with an offseason of change. The top seed in the Western Conference scored two goals or less five times in a seven-game loss to Los Angeles in the second round of the playoffs. Kesler was the big off-season addition, designed to support Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, adding to the Ducks’ defense. That remains a work in progress after one game. “Obviously our rush and zone coverage wasn’t where we want it to be and we’ve got to do a better job helping our goaltender,” Getzlaf said. “We kind of hung him out tonight and tried to play a run and gun against a team that scores goals well.” The Penguins scored three times in the first 13 minutes, racing out to an early three-goal lead. Pittsburgh’s first two goals were scored in the first seven minutes of the game as the Penguins dominated Gibson and the Ducks early. Hornqvist introduced himself to Pittsburgh with the first goal of the season, fluttering a shot off Gibson’s arm and into the net. Crosby scored a similar goal 2:06 later screaming down the left wing on a rush, as his shot deflected off Gibson’s glove, making it a 2-0 game. Dupuis finished a tic-tac-toe passing effort started by Malkin and Maatta when he one-timed a shot past an out-of-position Gibson off the rush. Kesler got one back with a power-play goal before the end of the period, rocketing a one-time point feed from Getzlaf past Fleury. Perry’s two second-period goals allowed Anaheim to briefly tie the game. Patrick Maroon intercepted Fleury’s errant pass behind the net and set up a wide-open Perry in front. Perry later tied it with a power-play goal from the slot, scored after the Penguins were whistled for too many men on the ice. “We got into penalty trouble, didn’t kill them off and they got momentum,” Crosby said. “There was a lot of game left. They have some guys that are pretty dangerous and they capitalized when they got their chances.” The Penguins recovered in a big way, closing the second period with two goals in 2:26. Crosby put the Penguins’ ahead for good with a power-play goal, breaking free down the left side after a backhand pass from Dupuis and beating Gibson on the blocker side. Maatta found a wide open Comeau, who made it 5-3 with a one-timer 54 seconds later. “It’s Game 1,” Crosby said. “You build as the season goes on, you learn from a game like that. Guys have a lot of energy, and we still have a lot to work on, but if we bring that passion and energy, we’re going to get better.” NOTES: Fleury stopped Nate Thompson on a penalty shot…Dupuis had a would-be second goal disallowed because Malkin interfered with Gibson…The Penguins’ six goals are the most in a season opener since an 8-3 win against Toronto in 1995…It’s the first time Pittsburgh allowed three power-play goals in a regular-season home game since 2008.