The visiting Anaheim Ducks sure didn’t make it easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener for both teams, but a great game from Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis made sure that after a turbulent summer with plenty of changes, their 2014-2015 NHL season started out rather smoothly, if you can call a 6-4 come from behind victory smooth.
Crosby finished with two goals and an assist, with his second coming off a Dupuis assist to break the 3-3 tie in the second period. Dupuis himself was on the role of setup man all night long, finishing with three assists, including a beautiful back handed one to Brandon Sutter early in the third period, giving the Penguins a 6-3 lead over the Ducks to feel quite safe that this time their lead won’t disappear into thin air.
Ryan Kesler with a goal and two assists and Corey Perry with a hat trick did most of the damage for the Ducks, taking advantage of some confusion in the Penguins defense and a not so impressive performance from goalie Marc Andre Fleury to come back from an early 0-3 deficit, as the Penguins took that lead with less than 14 minutes gone in the first period. The strong finish from the Pens in the second period, carrying over to the third as well, while the Ducks were left stunned and answer-less on offense, seemed to make all of the difference.
Maybe the most talented team in hockey once again, the Penguins are coming off a summer in which the General Manager and Head Coach positions were replaced. Jim Rutherford, who played for the Penguins in the 1970’s, took over for Ray Shero after eight years at the job, during which he helped built a Stanley Cup Winner in 2009, while the Penguins had the best record in their history than under any other general manager.
The same happened to Dan Bylsma, who was the head coach since 2008. He started out as the wonderkid coach, younger than everyone (only retired in 2004) and a champion after his first season, but the Penguins couldn’t return to the Stanley Cup after 2009, making the conference finals just once during those five seasons. Last year they were knocked out in the conference semifinals after building a 3-1 lead in the series, losing game 7 at home to the New York Rangers.
The Ducks made plenty of changes over the summer after an excellent regular season but yet another flame out in the playoffs, losing the final two games in a 7-game series against the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Kings, including game 7 at home. They added Kesler, center Nate Thompson, defenseman Clayton Stoner and veteran scorer Dany Heatley. The offense remains quite explosive, but they hope it made them tougher, something the Penguins are also looking to become.
The first step looked good, although not without its problems. Patric Hornqvist scored the opening goal of the game and he’s the biggest of the new arrivals. It was the first time for him in the same line with Crosby, and the Penguins are hoping that the combination is going to be more than good enough for the regular season.