Pittsburgh Penguins Open Mike Johnston Era With Entertaining Win Over Ducks


Oct 9, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) and left wing Blake Comeau (right) react after Comeau scored a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Johnston was certainly going to remember his NHL coaching debut, win or lose.

However, the way the Pittsburgh Penguins responded to his approach made Thursday night’s season opener against the Anaheim Ducks even more of a keepsake moment.

Looking fairly dominant for long stretches, the Penguins got a career-high four points from Pascal Dupuis and three each from Sidney Crosby and Olli Maatta in downing the Ducks 6-4 at Consol Energy Center.

Dupuis, whose only prior four-point game was in 2004 with Minnesota, scored a goal and added three assists in his first regular-season match since suffering a torn knee ligament last December. The 35-year-old winger had a noticeable spring in his step, as did nearly every member of the Penguins (1-0-0, 2 points) as they made Johnston the eighth of 21 all-time franchise coaches to win in his debut.

There were hiccups in the otherwise crowd-pleasing performance. The Pens sprinted to a 3-0 lead after 13 minutes of play but allowed the Ducks (0-1-0, 0 points) to tie the game by the 12:17 mark of the second period. Potent Anaheim scored three power-play goals on six opportunities, got a hat trick from Corey Perry and hit a pair of posts behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

On the other hand, Fleury stopped Nate Thompson‘s penalty shot in the second period, highlighting a 25-save effort for the incumbent netminder. He and the Penguins had to battle through some defensive lapses and turnovers, but for the most part the positives outweighed the negatives.

Patric Hornqvist showed instant cohesiveness on Crosby’s right wing, netting the opening goal in his Penguins debut and assisting on Crosby’s go-ahead power-play tally with 2:26 left in the second. Fellow newcomer Blake Comeau scored less than a minute later, finishing a smooth pass from Maatta with a hard one-timer past Ducks goalie – and Pittsburgh native – John Gibson.

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That two-goal lead grew to three on Dupuis’ third assist 1:01 into the third. With the Penguins shorthanded, Brandon Sutter took a feed from Dupuis in the offensive zone and blew by a pair of Ducks on his way to a slick backhand dish around the sprawling Gibson. Perry cut the margin to two with 3:13 remaining on his second power-play goal of the night, but Anaheim wouldn’t beat Fleury again.

Gibson, playing his first NHL game in his hometown, appeared overwhelmed by the moment early. Hornqvist jammed a quick wrister into the net off Gibson’s glove just five minutes into the game, then Crosby soared around former Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy and gunned a snap shot through the Anaheim goalie at 7:22.

Kunitz and Maatta earned the assists on Crosby’s goal, which developed from good puck support in the neutral zone – a Johnston focus in training camp. The new coach also wants his defensemen to join the attack often, which Maatta did when he stepped into the slot to lasso a pass from Evgeni Malkin and find an open Dupuis for an easy goal at 13:14 of the opening frame.

Ducks summer trade acquisition Ryan Kesler buried a one-timer from the left circle to bring the visitors within 3-1 at 14:22, but the first period was still a rousing success for the Pens. For the game, Pittsburgh built significant advantages in shots on goal (39-29) and total shot attempts (53-36) despite allowing the Ducks to have a 6-4 edge in power plays.

In the second period, Fleury handed Perry his first goal with a familiar stickhandling gaffe to make it 3-2. Perry shoved home a forehand from the slot to knot the score midway through, but, just moments later, the Pens’ lone power-play goal of the night proved decisive.

The physical Hornqvist won a loose puck at the Anaheim blue line to set it up, allowing Dupuis to possess the puck and feed Crosby at the left circle for an accurate finish under Gibson’s blocker.


The Pens travel to Toronto on Saturday to open their 41-game road schedule. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. from the Air Canada Centre.