EDMONTON – For a rookie trying to make an impression and stay for more than a nine-game audition, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is off to a pretty good start.
Nugent-Hopkins scored the game-tying goal in regulation and Ales Hemsky scored the shootout winner as the Edmonton Oilers started off the season with a bang, coming from behind to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Sunday night.
“Going into the game I was really nervous, but I tried to use that to my advantage,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who played his first NHL regular-season game. “It felt pretty good… it was really exciting. But, I’m more excited about the win.”
Kris Letang replied for the Penguins, who are now 2-0-1 on the season, earning points in all three stops of a Western Canadian road trip to start the season. They beat Vancouver and Calgary before coming up just short in Edmonton.
“We got five out of six points,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “I like that. We got some wins in tough places. We’ve played a lot of hockey already and I think that showed in this game. A lot of guys got taxed. But we’re happy with our start.”
The Penguins were without centre Evgeni Malkin, who left the ice after the pre-game skate with what appeared to be a lower body injury. There was no official update but Bylsma didn’t rule out his return for Pittsburgh’s next game.
Trailing 1-0 with five minutes left in the game, Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in this past summer’s NHL draft, got his first NHL goal as he pounced on a loose puck in front of the Penguins net and slid a backhand shot past Penguins starter Brent Johnson.
Oiler Ryan Smyth took an elbowing major soon afterwards, but Edmonton’s penalty killers came up huge to force the game into overtime.
Both teams hit posts in the overtime session, taking the match to the shootout.
Both goaltenders were excellent, whit Edmonton’s Devan Dubnyk making 33 saves and Johnson making 34.
Oilers head coach Tom Renney was happy to earn the win but said the game had its sloppy moments.
“It was hormone hockey,” he said. “I guess you have to expect that. Our team hadn’t played in a while and we had some guys playing their first ever NHL regular-season game. They were almost over-excited. We turned the puck over a number of times in the first two periods. But we started to play a little better and started to share the puck better.”
Pittsburgh got on the board early in the game with the Oilers short handed for too many men as a point shot by Letang seemed to go right through Dubnyk.
Johnson made a couple of good saves on Oiler power plays to keep it a one-goal game after the first period, particularly when he stoned Nugent-Hopkins in tight after a nice backhand pass from Hemsky.
It remained 1-0 past the middle of the second period as Dubnyk made a great play diving across the crease to take away an opportunity at an open net from Mark Letestu.
The Penguins will have their home-opener on Tuesday against Florida. The Oilers are off until Thursday when they play in Minnesota.
Notes: With Malkin out, former Oilers enforcer Steve MacIntyre stepped in as his last-minute replacement…Edmonton head coach Tom Renney is now a perfect 8-0 in home openers over his career…The Penguins entered the contest with four consecutive wins over the Oilers…It was the third game in four nights for the Penguins and third straight game as the opposition for a Western Canadian team’s home opener…Penguins star Sidney Crosby practised with the team on Sunday but has still not been cleared to play…Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal recorded his 200th career point on Saturday against Calgary. Also skating with the Pens but not ready to play is defenceman Brooks Orpik…Among the Oilers unable to start the season due to injury were Ryan Whitney, Sam Gagner and Ben Eager… As expected, the largest crowd response during the player introductions went to Smyth, returning to the team four years after an unpopular trade sent him to the Islanders…With the evening start, Edmonton became the last NHL team this season to start the regular season.
Note to readers: ADDS quotes, details.