The margin of victory flattered to deceive, as per Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper’s scorched-earth policy of pulling the goalie early and for a long time.
But if the Penguins’ 6-2 opening night win at Tampa was no Picasso, it was close.
The Penguins did exactly what they must do in the absence of injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin: They dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s.
They kept the Lightning to the outside. F3 played high and smart. They minimized mistakes at either blue line. They counterattacked quickly and efficiently. Great forecheck. The Penguins only conceded two odd-man rushes. They won puck battles.
Now that Malkin is 35 and Crosby is 34, that’s how the Penguins should play all the time. The Lightning were hung out to dry along with their latest Stanley Cup banner.
There were bad signs early. The Penguins’ first two nailed-on scoring chances went to Dominik Simon and Evan Rodrigues. You knew they weren’t going to score.
But then Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilievskiy, the NHL’s best goalie that’s not an ex-Penguin, did his best Tristan Jarry impression behind his own net. Suddenly the non-entities were pouring in the goals. (Even Simon, and even Rodrigues.)
Jarry kept his shutout ‘til under six minutes remained. He played OK in making 26 saves, but was tested only sporadically.
The injury-depleted Penguins outshot the Stanley Cup champs on their banner-raising night, 35-28. The Lightning should lower the banner and try it again next home game.
This is how the Penguins must play now: Less freewheeling, more fundamentals. That’s no matter who is/isn’t in the lineup. That’s the ticket to a 16th straight playoff berth.
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