Thursday, October 05, 2006

Battle of Pennsylvania 06-07: Episode 1

As if the new swell of interest in the new hockey season wasn't enough, the Penguins had twice the publicity tonight. But Pittsburgh fans and the local press media really aren't sure what to make of this Balsillie guy. Is he going to help this team or is he a carpetbagger in disguise? Penguins fans were definitely focused on the game and 16,975 packed the Mellon Arena for the season opener.

The pre-game ceremony began with an impressive light show and then a short video tribute to Mario Lemieux. Sid Crosby was seen on the jumbotron explaining about how much Mario has meant to this franchise. He then went on to say "Speaking for myself and for the team - thank you for everything you have done for this franchise." Then they unveiled the new #66 that will hang in the rafters styled after the current Penguins sweaters. Then, the Penguins decided to release 4 actual Penguins and place them out on the ice while another video was seen on the jumbotron. It was a ridiculous parody of the Superman movie and just as equally as bad voice-over imitating the legendary Marlon Brando monologue. When that was done, the Penguins were introduced in order of their jersey number. However, when John LeClair's name was called, a small segment of the crowd boo-ed. My best guess is that some fans are mad at him being involved with the Malkin injury. Crosby's introduction was loud, but I believe FSN Pittsburgh that covered the game tuned down the crowd noise over that broadcast.

The puck was dropped and Crosby won the first draw. The Pens were off to a good start. They came out hitting and out hustling the Flyers who seemed as if they were caught by surprise that the Penguins showed up to play. The first goal came from an unlikelihood of players - Michel Ouellet. Ouellet's bread-and-butter play is to sneak in behind the goaltender and catch a rebound, but Ouellet let a lightning quick wristshot go at the top of the faceoff circle. That surprise was not to be outdone by another unlikelihood of players, role player, Jarkko Ruttu. He went stick side on Robert Esche after being in the right spot. 2-0 Penguins at the end of the first period.

It was known by the start of the game that Jim Balsillie was at the arena and would take questions in a press conference carried live at the first intermission. The press immediately got their best shots in pressing Balsillie into making some sort of statement that he would promise to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Balsillie was all smiles and did his best to avoid being pinned down to any one idea. He then expressed his disappointment, perhaps echoing fans and the team, with the slow progress of a new arena deal. Mario stood back and watched over his shoulder. Once Balsillie finished with questions, Mario took to the podium and with his usual charm and smile, answered questions about his birthday.

The second period began to really get the Flyers back on their heels. Almost 2 minutes into the period, Sidney Crosby scored stick side to make things 3-0. Then came time for the Penguins to show that they weren't going to be pushed around by the Broad St. Bullies - Nolan Baumgartner was assessed 2 min instigator - 5 min fighting - 10 min misconduct after scrappy Colby Armstrong decided it was time to drop the gloves. Even with the last year's games still fresh in Crosby's memory, Crosby too showed da floppa just how he wasn't going to put up with their antics. Crosby seemed determined to stick up for himself and for his teammates whereas last year's aggression of Darien Hatcher unfairly branded Crosby a "whiner". Now that the Penguins established their own style of hockey on their bitter cross-state rivals, Josef Melichar also went to the vulnerable stick side of Esche to make it 4-0.

The third period went without scoring, but that was the crowning achievement to Marc-Andre Fleury. He stood in front of 40 Flyers shots on goal and proved to be the biggest penalty killer blanking 10 Flyers power plays.

It was a great start to the season and it will prove to be one where the Penguins finally turn the corner of miserable losing seasons starting with removing a big monkey on their collective back (see picture).

Notes: Tonight's game also marked the new era without Hall of Famer Mike Lange who will only be heard on radio this season. 2006 draft pick Jordan Staal totaled 12+ minutes of ice time and registered 2 shots on goal.

I will continue to chronicle the Pens/Flyers rivalry with the Battle of Pennsylvania this season as I did last year.
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