The Canadiens next opponent, Pittsburgh, lost their opening night game on Wednesday 3-2 to the Flyers and while you can never discount a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it may be a sign that despite what some experts think — that the Pens are a serious Stanley Cup contender merely on the strength of their two stars — there are ongoing depth issues there, especially with Jordan Staal injured and Sergei Gonchar now playing for the Senators.
Gonchar’s absence was apparent last night. Not only is he a big shooter from the point, he’s also excellent at quarterbacking the power play, setting the pace of the game and moving the puck with precision. Even though ex-Devil Paul Martin, who the Penguins signed in the offseason, is a very good passer, getting the puck to the big guns may not be as easy as it used to be.
Take, for example the bad turnover that led to Claude Giroux’s shorthanded game-winning goal last night (video) which came about four minutes after the Pens had cut the Flyers lead to 2-1 in the first minute of the third period.
Martin was on the ice along with Kris Letang, another Penguin the team
hopes will fill the void left by Gonchar’s departure.
First Martin tried to exit his own zone up the left side, but ran
into two Flyers forecheckers and threw the puck all the way back toward
Marc-Andre Fleury in the Pens’ goal. Fleury handed it off to Letang who
also tried the left side, also ran into Flyers forecheckers and tried a
desperation pass back to Martin.
But it was way too soft, and
Giroux jumped on it, went past Martin and beat Fleury. It’s hard to
imagine Gonchar, who is one of the league’s best at moving the puck
through forechecking, screwing that up.
True, it’s only one game and those mistakes can be corrected. Still, Gonchar is an elite world class defenseman and was a big part of what made the Penguins strong. His absence, like that of Andrei Markov for the Canadiens, has an impact.
But Markov will be coming back. Gonchar won’t.
At the other end of the ice, the Flyers surprised everyone by starting their rookie Russian goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, who his teammates call “Bob,” instead of Brian Boucher. Boucher, along with Michael Leighton were the Flyers playoff goalies last season, shuttling in an out of the lineup.
Leighton has a bad back and reports today are that he will have surgery and will be out up to two months.
The Flyers, as everyone who is not a member of the team’s hockey department knows, have suffered a chronic vision problem regarding goaltenders during the last few years. They can’t see their goalies generally aren’t very good.
But someone on the scouting staff may have gotten lasik surgery because “Bob” is supposed to be quite good. He was last night, anyway, looking comfortable, confident and quick — nothing like the guys who usually stand in front of Philly’s goal.
Bobrovsky had a strong training camp, strong enough that coach Peter Laviolette said he would have no problem using him in this video shot at Flyers camp before the season started
He was really good in the first period when the sloppy Flyers — playing without Chris Pronger who’s still recovering from offseason surgery — turned the puck over a number of times and he bailed them out. He made 15 stops as the Flyers built a 2-0 lead. The Pens also hit the post a few times.
Boucher said he was “a little bit shocked” that he wasn’t starting last night.
Boborvsky made 29 saves and Laviolette said he’d be back in there on Saturday for the Blues home opener. You-know-who will be in goal for the Blues.
(BTW, Mr. You-know-who was profiled today by Jeremy Rutherford in The St, Louis Post-Dispatch. Nice photo with the story, too.)
“Bob” played three years in the KHL and was Russia’s goalie in the 2008 WJC, where he lost the gold medal game to Canada 5-0. Could be he’s the real deal.
The Flyers first visit the Bell Centre on November 16.
P.S. Bobby Orr was on the Team 990 Morning Show today and that interview is archived on their website.