PITTSBURGH – There were no champagne showers for the Pittsburgh Penguins, no post-game celebration. They had to be satisfied with taking away two points from a division opponent on an emotional and potentially distraction-filled night, and that was plenty good enough.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby watched the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner, then got the NHL champions off to a familiar start by scoring their first two goals during a 3-2 victory over the rival New York Rangers on Friday night.
Crosby and Tyler Kennedy scored 1:08 apart in the second period to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead and allow them to withstand Marian Gaborik’s first goal for the Rangers, the only scoring during the third period. Pittsburgh has won all four games against the Rangers at home the last two seasons and is 14-0-2 in its last 16 there against them.
At least the Rangers won’t have to see 48-year-old Mellon Arena again for another opener, as the NHL’s oldest arena will be replaced by Consol Energy Center next season.
Rangers coach John Tortorella wanted his team to watch the Penguins’ pre-game ceremony, if only to show them the rewards a championship season can bring, but logistical problems prevented that. Once the banner was raised and the Stanley Cup was taken off the ice, the Penguins offered numerous reminders of why they beat Detroit in Game 7 in June.
“I thought we did a good job of focusing,” Crosby said. “You’re sitting around a little bit, but I thought it worked to our advantage. We were skating pretty well and got off to a great start.”
During the ceremony, Crosby found himself thinking back to his rookie season in 2005-06, when Pittsburgh was one of the NHL’s worst teams.
“A lot went through my mind in the two minutes it took to get up there but, once it was up there, it was time to move on,” he said.
Malkin, the league’s leading scorer last season, and Crosby, No. 3 in scoring, each got their first goals of the season and Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves – including a goal-saving, glove-hand stop on Vinny Prospal late in the first period. The Rangers would have led 2-1 if Prospal had scored and might have seized some of the momentum created by the Penguins’ pregame party.
“We make mistakes sometimes and that’s what your goalie’s there to do, to bail you out, and that was a great one,” Crosby said.
While the Penguins stayed mostly the same during the brief off-season, except for losing top defensive pair Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, the Rangers underwent a major retooling. They cast off scoring leaders Scott Gomez and Nikolai Zherdev, plus Markus Naslund and seven other players, and added Gaborik, the top free agent on the market.
Gaborik matched the Penguins stars’ speed, starting several up-ice rushes while taking a game-high eight shots, but again a Rangers team that ranked 28th last season with a 2.44 goals-against average had trouble finishing plays. The Rangers were 0 for 4 on the power play to Pittsburgh’s 1 of 2.
“He (Fleury) made some real big ones,” Chris Drury said. “Some on Gaborik, he was bouncing around all over the place, making big saves.”
Malkin’s goal came with a man-advantage at 7:48 of the first as Sergei Gonchar’s shot from the right point glanced off Malkin’s stick and eluded goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 28 shots. Drury was off for holding.
Drury made up for the penalty by scoring slightly more than eight minutes later, after Gonchar’s clearing pass intended for Jordan Staal was intercepted by Christopher Higgins.
Crosby’s goal developed from a 3-on-1 rush with Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz. Kris Letang got the puck out from behind the net and Crosby scored from in front at 12:25 of the second. Crosby has 11 goals and 20 assists against Lundqvist, the most points he has against any opposing goalie.
Kennedy made it 3-1 on a goal that was originally awarded to defenceman Alex Goligoski at 13:33. Much like the Malkin goal, the shot barely grazed Kennedy’s stick.
“I thought at times there were some really good minutes and other times we struggled,” Tortorella said. “They surged on us a couple of times and that third goal was a very important goal of the game.”
Gaborik cut it to 3-2 at 5:56 of the third, but the Penguins refused to sit back to try to protect the lead and kept pressuring for another goal. They didn’t get one, but neither did the Rangers.
“I thought we shrugged off their second goal pretty well and didn’t give them much after that,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said.
NOTES: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended. … The Staal brothers each had an assist. … Both teams play in New York on Saturday night, the Rangers against Ottawa and the Penguins at the Islanders.