Sidney Crosby, coming off his 102-point rookie season, scored a goal and third-line forwards Michel Ouellet and Jarkko Ruttu set up each other less than three minutes apart in the first period to give the surprisingly good Penguins the early lead and some momentum.
Leading the cheers was new owner Jim Balsillie, CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based company Research in Motion, who signed a sales agreement for the estimated US$175 million purchase with Mario Lemieux’s ownership group hours before the opening faceoff.
The Penguins not only got a goal from an unexpected source – defenceman Josef Melichar, who had only three last season – they overcame a 40-21 Flyers shots advantage. They also killed off two Philadelphia two-man advantages in the first two periods behind Fleury, who came into the game with a 17-41-2-6 career record and a spotty pre-season in which he nearly lost his starting job. The Flyers were 0-for-10 on the power play.
Playing on the first anniversary of Crosby’s long-awaited NHL debut, a dismally played 5-1 loss in New Jersey that started them on a season-opening nine-game losing streak, the Penguins unexpectedly took the play to the Flyers, a team that has long dominated them. The Flyers won six of eight from them last season.
Pittsburgh scored on four of its first 11 shots against goalie Robert Esche, a performance more reminiscent of the Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr days than those during a string of four consecutive last-place division finishes since 2003. They frequently outskated the Flyers to the puck, fed off a succession of excellent saves by Fleury and a strong game by the Ouellet-Dominic Moore-Ruutu line.
Moore and Ruutu were among new general manager Ray Shero’s off-season pickups – not big-name players, but ones he felt would fit in well with a fast-skating, youthful team that will have four players 20 or younger when Russian star Evgeni Malkin recovers from his dislocated left shoulder.
The Penguins played three teenagers – an almost unheard of occurrence in a major team sport – with first-round pick Jordan Staal, who just turned 18, and 19-year-old defenceman Kris Letang making their NHL debuts.
The Flyers didn’t appear to see this coming. The game got away from them quickly when Ouellet powered a shot from the top of the right circle beyond Esche slightly more than four minutes into the game.
Ouellet then set up Ruutu less than three minutes later for a tap-in that made it 2-0. The big lift provided by that lead clearly gave a boost to a Penguins team whose 22 victories last season were the fewest for the franchise since the 1983-84 team won only 16, giving them the chance to draft Lemieux.
Crosby made it 3-0 early in the second period by beating Esche inside the near post from below the left circle.
Lemieux’s No. 66 jersey banner was raised again to the Mellon Arena ceiling before the game, nine months after the Hall of Fame centre retired from the Penguins for the second time.
The banner recognizing Lemieux’s career, unveiled after he retired in 1997, was taken down after he came out of retirement in 2000. The new banner updates the length of Lemieux’s career.