It was Sidney Crosby’s first game of the season after suffering a concussion.
Jaromir Jagr made, what is likely, one of his last appearances in Pittsburgh.
Based on the billing alone, the matchup between the Penguins and Florida Panthers on Tuesday night was expected to be a special one. It took a period and a half, but it didn’t disappoint.
It was Crosby’s first NHL game since June but, during the opening period, the entire Penguins squad looked like they had not played in six months. Florida was allowed to dictate play, while Pittsburgh was constantly chasing them. The result: three first-period penalties, and eventually a Panthers’ power play goal by Reilly Smith.
When Ian Cole is leading your team ice time, you’re doing this hockey thing wrong. Gotta stay out of the box.
— Mike Necciai (@Michael29Angelo) October 25, 2016
As a result of the Penguins’ frequent trips to the penalty box, Crosby was only on the ice for 5 minutes and 24 seconds in the first frame. It was a difficult period to watch for Penguins fans.
Penguins Paradigm Shift
Things did not turn around until the second period was more than half over; but it turned around in a big way, courtesy of #87. After Pittsburgh spotted Florida a two-goal lead, Crosby scored on the power play with a rocket shot from between the circles. Yes, a goal from anyone would have been important at that stage of the game, but nobody else would have the same impact as the captain. I was sitting in the media level of PPG Paints Arena, when the puck went into the net and fans shook the building in a way that only Pittsburgh fans can do. Crosby scoring that goal flipped a switch for his team, and remarkably the Penguins started playing like the Penguins.
Crosby goal pic.twitter.com/BWCNbrgpI5
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 26, 2016
The momentum of the Crosby goal carried into the third period, with the Penguins getting goals from Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr, who both recorded their first tallies of the season. The go-ahead goal from Fehr was the result of a beautiful pass from a guy that you don’t normally think of as a skill player. Tom Kuhnhackl tossed a tape-to-tape pass while on the rush for a quick Fehr deflection. It topped off a solid effort from the Penguins’ fourth line, who had two players with an offensive zone start % of 0. Matt Cullen’s was 33.33%.
Fehr go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/1R4jVp23Yt
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 26, 2016
Pittsburgh won 3 – 2 in what eventually became an entertaining contest. Crosby’s line, along with Patric Hornqvist, and Scott Wilson had among the best possession numbers in the game with a 5v5 Corsi For % of 62.86, 58.82, and 66.67 respectively. It was an important win for the Penguins, not only because of their disappointing first period, but it came on the heels of a dreadful performance against Nashville.
There are still concerns, such as undisciplined play resulting in penalties. But with the Crosby goal, we may have just seen a turning point in the Penguins’ young season. It would be foolish to think that progress is that linear, but this is virtually the same team that won the Stanley Cup not so long ago. During the final 30 minutes of yesterday’s game, we were reminded that this is a skilled, aggressive, possession-driven team that can overmatch anyone at will. It is quite possible that the players needed to be reminded of that as well.
It took many years of booing and bitterness, but Pittsburgh finally gets how special Jaromir Jagr is. Everyone knew about the Stanley Cups, and the scoring titles, but after the trade demand, and his “dying alive” comment so many years ago, the Jagr / Pittsburgh relationship was like an ugly divorce.
— Josh Getzoff (@PensJG) October 25, 2016
At the age of 44, Jagr shows us with every game, every point, every media interaction, and Tweet, that he is a living legend. Some of the players that he shares the ice with were not born when Jagr won the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1991. All these years later, he is still better than a significant portion of the league. He isn’t an over-the-hill player with a token roster spot, he is still producing at a high level. Jagr is good for his teammates, and he is definitely good for the game. He is ” Mario Jr.” no more.
Good for you Penguins fans for showing your gratitude to a Pittsburgh legend.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.