RECAP 1: Buzzin’. Pens Ground Lightning, Win Season Opener

RECAP 1: Buzzin'. Pens Ground Lightning, Win Season Opener
TAMPA, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 12: Dominik Simon #49 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates a goal during the third period of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

It was a banner night for the Penguins.

On the road for the first game of the season against the two time defending Stanley Cup champions and they walked in to Amalie Arena on a mission.

That mission was to play suffocating, buzzkilling hockey that sucks the will and eventually life out of their opposition.

RECAP 1: Buzzin'. Pens Ground Lightning, Win Season Opener

If there’s one word to describe the first period, it’s “art.”

It was a masterclass in bombarding your opponent with all of the hallmarks of a great Mike Sullivan coached team.

By the end of it, the Penguins controlled 59.46% of the shot attempts (22-15), doubled up the Bolts in unblocked attempts and shots on goal (18-9 and 14-7 respectively), but, perhaps more importantly, that quantity advantage translated to quality as well as they took a first period edge in scoring chances (14-6), high danger chances (4-0), and an expected goals share of 76.09% (0.88-028), all at 5v5.

They did everything but score.

RECAP 1: Buzzin'. Pens Ground Lightning, Win Season Opener

That big turning point came in the 2nd period when Danton Heinen scored just 12 seconds into the frame.

Perhaps nothing epitomized the Penguins rabid play more than this goal.

It’s a simple play all around, too.  Jeff Carter wins the draw and the Pens work it through the neutral zone with a little chip play from Heinen to Rust.  From there, it’s just one team working harder than the other, a staple the Pens hammered out all game long.

As the Lightning try to set up for a breakout, it’s Carter getting in on Vasilevskiy, who you have to say is left on an island here.  Only Point is in support.  Carter blocks down the clearing attempt and it’s all gravy for the new boy.

If you weren’t sold on it yet, the Penguins turned it on even more about 4 minutes later.

Again, it’s some rabid play that sets up the 2nd goal.  The Penguins remained heavy and determined on the forecheck, forcing Killorn to take the Erik Gudbranson style of defending: relieve pressure with a backhand dump to the neutral zone and hope it works out.

It did not.

John Marino picks it up at center ice, holds it long enough for the 4th line forwards to get back onside, and recycles it to Drew O’Connor coming high in support.  The Lightning are reeling here and simply get caught with the Pens forwards in between their forward group and defensemen.  All Lafferty has to do is make a picture-perfect pass to Boyle sneaking in on the weak side and it’s game, set, and match.

Tampa, you have to say, never really did recover from this second goal.  They had a chance midway through the second on their lone powerplay of the night, but Jarry and the Pens PK really stood tall in shutting it down before Dom Simon added a third midway through the 3rd frame from yet another meaty forecheck.

Jon Cooper would go on to pull his goalie for the extra skater with about 6 minutes left in the period down 3.  It paid immediate dividends as Cirelli tipped one in to break the shutout, matched only by Blueger netting a gimme 30 seconds later.  Killorn would strike, but ERod and Rust would find the vacated twine to put the icing and cherry on top of a very professional performance.

RECAP 1: Buzzin'. Pens Ground Lightning, Win Season Opener The Stats

  • Let’s start with Jarry.  It might be a little unfair to say he allowed 0.29 goals above expectation in all situations given that both goals came in garbage time at 6v5.  The Penguins only allowed him to face a total of 6 high danger shots on the evening en route to a .929 SV%.  He only faced 1.19 expected goals against at 5v5 and stopped all 23 shots he faced there.  Only 3 of those shots came from the high danger area.  We talked about it on 3 Assists (shameless plug go listen!!!!), but the Penguins as a team are strong enough defensively that they can insulate and protect Jarry during the regular season and allow him to have some success.  That was on display here.
  • Every single Penguin skater last night had an expected goals share at 5v5 above 50%, meaning they created more quality looks than they allowed.  With a depleted lineup against this Tampa team, that’s impressive as all hell.  Special shout outs to the McGinn-Blueger-Simon line on scoring and controlling 55.50% of the 5v5 expected goals and another shoutout to the 4th line of O’Connor-Boyle-Lafferty for also scoring and controlling just under 83% of the share of expected goals.
  • There are lofty expectations for Kasperi Kapanen this season, especially with Crosby, Malkin, and Guentzel all currently out, but he looked faster than Usain Bolt.  Neither he nor Zucker got rewarded for their efforts, but they deserved to.  Kapanen was on the ice for 12 shot attempts for and 9 against, controlling 75.42% of the expected goals in 13:13 of 5v5 time.  Zucker, on the other hand, was on the ice for 15 minutes at 5v5, 14 shot attempts for and 10 against with a 77.10% share of expected goals, while finishing at the joint-top of the roster in individual shot attempts (4, tied with Heinen, Simon, Dumoulin, Rust, O’Connor, Ruhwedel, and Letang) and shots on goal (also 4, tied with Heinen and Simon).  His 3 scoring chances were one off the team high of 4, also posted by Heinen.  If they continue to turn in these sorts of performances when Carter (or Malkin) starts centering them, they’re going to be a nightmare for their opposition.
  • To go a little further on Heinen- great to see the new boy get going early.  He’s going to be fun this year.  That line with Carter and Rust created 8 of the 11 total scoring chances at 5v5 that took place while they were on the ice together and created 4 high danger chances, allowing exactly 0 and controlled 78.92% of the expected goals.
  • Dumoulin and Letang were the only two Penguins skaters on the ice for 2 of the 3 5v5 goals the Pens scored.  Letang was particularly good last night, going 18-13 in unblocked shot attempts, controlling 68.57% of the expected goals, and was on the ice for 14 scoring chances that the Pens generated and just 5 against in a team high 21:52 of 5v5 ice time.  No one else broke 20 minutes.

  • Finally, let’s give some love to the Pettersson-Marino pairing.  Marino was slated to skate with Matheson to start the year, but a nagging lower body injury kept Matheson out of the lineup.  These two, though, just feel more organic together.  They know how to play with one another and that was on full display last night.  At one point in the first period, Marino joined the Pens forwards in trying to strangle the Bolts at the top of the zone- something the Penguins did a lot of last year.  A year ago, they probably get scored on, but Pettersson stayed home, protected the net, and broke up a set up pass aimed at creating a one-timer on the back post.  It was textbook defending from a guy that has consistently shut down the net front in his time with the flightless birds.  Together in 16:19 if 5v5 play, they owned a 76.51% share of the expected goals, generated 9 scoring chances (4 high danger), and allowed just 4 (0 high danger).

Pens are back at it on Thursday as they head to Sunrise to wrap up this mini 2 game Florida road trip to take on the Panthers.  Do it.

Note: All data provided via

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