Penguins rally, but Blues spoil party with overtime victory in opener
In the big picture, the Penguins know exactly where the major threats are to their reign as Stanley Cup champions.
Externally, in the Eastern Conference, there are up-and-coming teams in Toronto and Columbus as well as their established rivals in Washington and Tampa Bay.
Internally, there's the challenge of maintaining a level of energy and focus after two long postseason runs in a row.
In the small picture, though, failure to identify threats on the ice cost them a victory on the night they raised the franchise's fifth championship banner to the rafters of the PPG Paints Arena.
Alex Pietrangelo scored his second goal of the game 1 minute, 15 seconds into overtime to lead the Blues to a 5-4 season-opening victory Wednesday night.
Pietrangelo pulled up at the right circle during the three-on-three session, used defenseman Justin Schultz as a screen and fired a shot that deflected in off goalie Matt Murray's left arm.
“Nice play,” Murray said. “I just need to do a better job of finding it through the screen. I was just a little bit late picking it up.”
With the score tied 2-2 after an Olli Maatta goal in the middle of the second period, the Blues scored twice on goals off the rush.
On the first, late in the second, Pietrangelo took a drop pass from Vladimir Sobotka near the right point, cut to the middle and scored. After dropping the puck, Sobotka took out defenseman Brian Dumoulin to make sure his teammate had all the time he needed.
On the second, early in the third period, Sobotka steered a pass to an open Paul Stastny in the slot for a goal.
“It wasn't that we were outmanned,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It was just we didn't recognize where the threats were, and so, as a result, we were in the wrong position. We've got to do a better job at those details, of making sure that we shoulder check and we have an awareness away from the puck and we recognize where those threats are.”
The Penguins earned the banner they raised Wednesday night with a resilient flair for the dramatic in last season's playoffs. During a furious third-period rally that forced overtime, they showed those traits didn't abandon them over the summer.
With 7:34, Brayden Schenn took a critical minor penalty for closing his hand on the puck while shorthanded. About a minute later, the Penguins pulled within one when Sidney Crosby cashed in the rebound of an Evgeni Malkin one-timer from the right circle.
Less than a minute later, training camp standout Greg McKegg made a cross-crease pass from the left side to Conor Sheary, who dropped to a knee and pushed a one-timer past diving goalie Jake Allen to tie the score 4-4.
“We just stayed confident late in the game,” said McKegg, who went 13-4 in the faceoff circle in his Penguins debut as third-line center. “We had chances throughout the game. We were pressuring them. Finally, a couple kind of popped in for us. We found our mojo there late.”
The Penguins also had some mojo early, fresh off the banner-raising ceremony. They dominated the first seven minutes of the game and took a 1-0 lead on a Schultz goal.
“We had a good start,” Crosby said. “I think the first 10 minutes, we had a good pace.”
Aside from the pregame ceremony, the most significant development for the Penguins might have been the healthy return of Kris Letang, who hadn't played since Feb. 21 and had neck surgery in April. He played more than 26 minutes, leading all skaters in the game.
“I felt pretty good,” Letang said. “My intensity was there. I had good jump. I was pretty happy with that.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.