PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The debut went remarkably well, with barely a glitch and with all the accompanying excitement of an opening night that will never be duplicated again.
The goalie’s, that is, not the arena’s.
Surprise starter Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots in his first NHL game, Danny Briere and Blair Betts scored the first two goals, and the Philadelphia Flyers spoiled the Pittsburgh Penguins’ opening night in their new arena by winning 3-2 on Thursday.
Bobrovsky was calm and didn’t look intimidated despite being, at 22 years and 17 days, the youngest goalie to start a Flyers season opener.
“It wasn’t anything too extraordinary,” Bobrovsky said. “I wasn’t too nervous. I was ready for this.”
He looked it, too, despite going against two of the NHL’s best players, Sidney Crosby and Bobrovsky’s fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, who knew nothing about him.
“It didn’t matter to me whether it was Malkin or Crosby, I was just following the game, making sure I stopped every puck,” Bobrovsky said.
With starter Michael Leighton likely sidelined for another two weeks, Brian Boucher was expected to start in net, but the Flyers went instead with a goalie who was 9-22-3—although with a sub-3.00 goals-against average—for Novokvznetsk of Russia’s KHL last season.
“We’re all pretty happy for him,” Briere said. “He looked good, he felt pretty comfortable all day.”
Upon learning earlier in the day that Bobrovsky would start, the Penguins found only three periods of his game tape to scout.
“I never see this guy play, never met him,” Malkin said. “It’s a little bit harder when you don’t know how he plays, nothing about him.”
For the first time in their 44-season history, the Penguins played a home game in a brand-new arena as an above-capacity 18,289 jammed into the Consol Energy Arena—a building made certain only after Crosby’s arrival in 2005 rejuvenated hockey interest in Pittsburgh.
Fittingly, Crosby nearly got the first goal, putting a shot off the post 10 minutes in. About then, fans accustomed to the Civic Arena’s ancient seats and narrow concourses were marvelling in the spacious new arena’s plushness.
Instead, Briere—the Flyers’ leading scorer during their run to the Stanley Cup finals last spring—was the first to put the puck into one of the new nets at 2:51 of the second, only six seconds after Deryk Engelland went off for hooking.
“We hit some posts, took some shots he didn’t see,” Crosby said. “We did some good things. You want to win the first one, every guy in here wants to, everyone that came tonight wanted to see us win it. But that’s the game. It’s unfortunate.”
Betts made it 2-0 late in the period, stuffing in a rebound of Darroll Powe’s shot that ticked off James van Riemsdyk’s back as he skated toward the net.
Bobrovsky turned aside Pittsburgh’s first 24 shots before Tyler Kennedy scored from along the goal-line 44 seconds into the third period.
Claude Giroux restored the Flyers’ two-goal lead at 4:55 by stealing Kris Letang’s lazy pass intended for Paul Martin in the Penguins’ zone and beating Marc-Andre Fleury on a short breakaway. Fleury made 24 saves in his first game since the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship reign ended with a 5-2 loss in Game 7 to Montreal on May 12.
Alex Goligoski scored on the power play 19 seconds later, but the Flyers killed off a Penguins power play over the final 1:13.
The Penguins also lost their first game in the Civc Arena, 2-1 to Montreal on Oct. 11, 1967, or about six years after that arena opened without a sports team tenant.
Notes: Flyers D Chris Pronger (knee surgery) missed his first regular-season game in three seasons. … Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux dropped the opening puck after emptying a bottle of water taken from melted ice at the Civic Arena. … The Flyers won only their fourth in their last 13 against Pittsburgh. … The Penguins played before their 167th consecutive home sellout. … Previously, the youngest Flyers opening night goalie was Ron Hextall (22years, 159 days) in 1986.