The much-anticipated start to the 2021 NHL season was met with great disappointment for Pittsburgh fans after the team dropped their season opener by a score of 6-3 to their state-rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers forward Joel Farabee stole the show with a goal and three assists on the night at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite the tough loss to start the year, it was a hard-fought game that at times was heavily dominated by the Pens.
There are several key takeaways from last night’s game that the team needs to review and adjust to get on the right track.
The Pens special teams struggled early in the game as the Flyers capitalized on two powerplay goals late in the first period. The penalty kill struggled to apply pressure around the points and allowed the Flyers to generate traffic in front of Jarry. Both powerplay goals were tips from point shots. The Pens powerplay also struggled with zone entry and puck control despite having a powerplay goal on the night. The powerplay goal they did score came early in the second period and was more of a gift as a result of a poor clearance from Carter Hart that Sidney Crosby capitalized on. The teams’ powerplay and penalty kill both finished one-for-three on the night which further suggests that special teams need work.
The new-look third line:
The Pens only line that seemed to click throughout the night was the new-look third line. The line features Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev being centered by Mark Jankowski who played in his first game as a member of the team. Collectively, they had five points on the night and Jankowski recorded his first goal and assist with the Pens. The Penguins struggled last season to find secondary scoring and became too dependent on their top-two lines, and if last nights performance is an indicator of what to expect from the third line, they may have resolved that issue. Despite outshooting their opponents 34-25, the Penguins were unable to solve Carter Hart late in the third period. Nevertheless, the success of the third line was a positive takeaway for the Pens after game one.
“We have a resilient group. They had a couple bounces here and there. We’re gonna be better next game. I haven’t been here too long, but I can already tell there’s no quitting in this group.” said Pens forward Mark Jankowski following last night’s loss.
Although it is still too early in the year to sound any alarms, the Penguins defense looked extremely shaky. It was evident that they have not played in a while as they seemed to struggle with the pace of the game and staying in position. Both newcomers Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson took penalties leading to goals in the first period, and struggled to settle into the game. Keeping in mind that they have not played in months and are new to the team, the two will hopefully improve as the season progresses and the rust starts to wear off. The Pens did well to limit the amount of scoring chances given up to the Flyers, however the chances they did give up, unfortunately were high-quality opportunities that cost them.
Captain Sidney Crosby addressed this issue saying, “We didn’t give up a ton of chances, but the ones we did were pretty big. You’re going to make mistakes but you don’t want to make ones like that. We’re trying to eliminate those and we’ll give ourselves a better chance at success if we do.”
Defenseman John Marino also discussed the loss postgame. “Guys are going to be upset after a loss, but at the end of the day, it’s the first game of the season. We don’t want to take it too heavy. We want to learn from it, get better, and don’t dwell on it for too long.” The team won’t have much time to dwell on the loss as they will be back at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night for a rematch with the Flyers.
It is of significant importance that goaltending remains consistent throughout the season and with Tristan Jarry getting the nod on opening night for his first time, it was a rather disappointing finish to an exciting game for the 25-year-old. Jarry made 19 saves on 25 shots leaving him with a .760 save percentage to start the game. His good-friend and goaltending opponent Carter Hart, outdueled him after allowing only three goals on 34 shots. Despite the poor save percentage, the Surrey, BC-native had an impressive first two period of play for the Pens where he seemed calm and composed in the net, making some important saves early in the game.
However, it was in the third period where he seemed to have lost his mojo allowing three unanswered goals on nine shots in the period. Again, nothing to be too alarmed about yet as goalies often need some time to adjust and get into a rhythm, and for this shortened season, the Pens can only hope that happens sooner rather than later. The former second-round pick hopes to bounce back on Friday night where the Pens look for redemption.
When asked about his goaltender, Head Coach Mike Sullivan said, “There were a few that Tristan could have been sharper on, but we can say that about all of us. I’m not going to over-assess any one player. We all need to be better if we’re going to have the success we need to have.”
The Penguins head coach was not too concerned with the teams loss, and knows that it’s still very early in the season with a lot of hockey to still be played. “I know we’ll get better. We just have to make sure we learn through each experience.”
The Pens will be back in action Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center where they look to redeem themselves against the Flyers. Puck drop is at 7PM EST.