NHL Opening Night Highlights, Scores, Recaps: Kraken Loses Knights Inaugural Game, Penguins Beat Lightning

The 2021-22 NHL season has officially started. This marks the first time since the 2018/19 campaign that the NHL will have a traditional 82-game season. All the action began when the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning took on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defending champions had a rough night as they fell to the Penguins 6-2. And to make matters worse, that is a Penguins team that will be without star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for a while due to injuries.

Penguins 6, Lightning 2

The Tampa Bay Lightning lifted their second straight Stanley Cup banner ahead of Tuesday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, that turned out to be the most positive aspect of the evening for the home team.

The Penguins defeated the Lightning 6-2 and received goals in the second period from forwards Brian Boyle, Danton Heinen and Dominik Simon to accelerate the offensive charge. Goalkeeper Tristan Jarry was also a force in the net as he turned 28 shots away in the win.

The two teams went to a scoreless draw after the first 20 minutes, but the Penguins quickly took control of the game in the second period. Just 12 seconds into the second period, Andrei Vasilevskiy misplayed the puck behind the net and Heinen scored into the empty net on a pass from veteran striker Jeff Carter. Just four minutes later, veteran Brian Boyle put the Penguins at 2-0 after beating Vasilevskiy through the five holes. Boyle had just signed with the team on Monday after serving out the 2020-21 season.

After Dominik Simon made it 3-0 midway through the third period, the Lightning employed an intriguing strategy as Vasilevskiy was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. It worked out well in the end as defender Victor Hedman ripped one from the point and Anthony Cirelli sent it home to narrow the deficit to 3-1.

The Lightning kept Vasilevskiy on the line in the closing minutes, but forwards Teddy Blueger, Evan Rodrigues and Bryan Rust scored with empty nets to put the game out of reach.

The Penguins were easily the more aggressive team out of the gate. Pittsburgh defeated Tampa Bay 34-25 and blocked 15 shots on the night. Despite running out of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese, the Penguins were able to easily send the reigning Stanley Cup champions away.

Golden Knights 4, Kraken 3

The Seattle Kraken hope to follow the blueprint that the Vegas Golden Knights drafted as an expansion team in 2017. This time, however, the teacher had the last laugh at the student.

On Tuesday, the Golden Knights got away with a 4-3 win in the first game of the regular season for the Kraken. Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson scored the winning goal at 8:33 of the third period. Stephenson had hit the puck of his skate, but the umpires ruled there was no apparent kick.

Vegas forward Max Pacioretty was an absolute force all night long as he scored three points (two goals and an assist). Pacioretty scored two of the team’s first three goals, while Mark Stone provided three assists that night.

Just 35 seconds before Stephenson’s goal, Kraken forward Morgan Geekie was able to hit the loose puck in the neutral zone and rip past Golden Knights goalkeeper Robin Lehner. The Geekie goal tied the score at three after the Golden Knights took a commanding lead early on.

The Kraken were able to kick off the comeback thanks to a stark goal from Ryan Donato, who scored the first goal in franchise history. Joonas Donskoi fired a shot that stopped Lehner, but Donato beat Golden Knights defender Alec Martinez for the rebound. Jared McCann also scored for the Kraken on a play in which the puck slid just past Lehner.

Despite the Kraken’s furious comeback, the Golden Knights have yet to lose in the regular season if they hold a three-goal lead in a regular season game. Vegas is now 91-0-1 with a three-goal lead in the regular season.

After the first night of NHL action, here are a few takeaways from Opening Night:

Penguins may have the depth to survive without Malkin

The Penguins knew they would be without Crosby and Malkin at the start of the regular season. However, the team also lost strikers Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese after both players tested positive for COVID-19. What did the Penguins do with four of their top strikers from the lineup? Six Pittsburgh players scored a goal against defending champion Lightning.

One of the biggest surprises was experienced striker Brian Boyle’s play. Boyle, who signed with the team just one day before opening night, made 16 teams in which he scored a goal, blocked two shots and registered two hits in 9:21 ice time. While he didn’t have much ice age, Boyle could be a nice veteran to have on Pittsburgh’s fourth line.

Plus, Jeff Carter did a little bit of everything while centering the top line of Pittsburgh. Carter provided an assist on Danton Heinen’s goal, shot on target and scored three goals in 19:37 ice age, the second highest among attackers.

Based on what we’ve seen in recent Penguin practices, it’s likely Crosby will return in the very near future. Malkin is slated to miss the first two months of the season, but Pittsburgh may have enough scoring depth if Tuesday’s win is any indication.

Lightning can have a Stanley Cup hangover

The deck was really stacked against the Penguins. You’re talking about a team leaving behind four of their top strikers, so if they lost it wouldn’t have come as a huge shock. However, the Lightning looked absolutely stationary out of the gate and failed to score a single goal of equal strength. Tampa Bay’s two setbacks came with an extra striker after they pulled Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Perhaps the Lightning had a Stanley Cup hangover after winning back-to-back championships. A few pieces have changed, but this team is far too talented to believe this is what they will be this season. If the Lightning made a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third consecutive season, no one would turn a blind eye.

Golden Knights have an unlimited number of game makers

Since entering the league in 2017, the Golden Knights have been a group that has proven they can do a lot of damage on the offensive side of the ice. However, the 2021-22 version could have the largest number of playmakers we’ve seen yet.

Tuesday’s season opener showed just how dangerous this group of attackers can be. Max Pacioretty scored a couple of goals and Jonathan Marchessault easily had the best score of the evening as he used his height to push the puck past Kraken netminder Philipp Grubauer. While all of that was extremely impressive, it was a masterful performance by Mark Stone that captured the most attention. Stone finished with three assists and his playing ability was on full display.

For example, on Pacioretty’s second goal, Stone could have easily put his own shot into the net and it could very well have gone past Grubauer. However, Stone looked for the better pass and hit defender Nicolas Hague in the slot for the high percentage chance, which Pacioretty changed direction.

As deep as Vegas’ roster is, Stone can be even more valuable to a facilitator. Stone has provided at least 40 assists in each of the last two seasons, but if he continues to see the ice like this, the Golden Knights could be unstoppable.

Kraken will be fun to watch this season

There was an abundance of excitement surrounding the Kraken’s inaugural NHL game of the regular season. The Pacific Northwest really seemed to align with its newest team, and it didn’t hurt that Seattle was making its debut in a nationally televised setting.

Things looked rather bleak at first, as the Golden Knights scored two goals in the first seven minutes. Max Pacioretty put on a show and made Philipp Grubauer’s life miserable. The Kraken, however, never threw in the towel and put their foot on the gas to climb back into the game. Ryan Donato’s goal really set the tone as he was able to score one of the hardest goals you’ll see on the net.

Donato’s goal helped change the momentum and suddenly the Kraken looked like the more aggressive team. They were physically at the forefront, getting to those 50/50 pucks. Seattle fought all the way back from a three-goal deficit when they could have bagged the net.

This is a group with a strong defensive base with experienced defenders such as Captain Mark Giordano and Adam Larsson and an elite netminder in Grubauer. The Kraken can win many 2-1 and 3-2 type matches throughout the season, in which their defensive acumen will be important. There’s still a long way to go to see if the Kraken will be a playoff team like the Golden Knights were in their first season. However, other than taking a win, the Kraken couldn’t have asked for a much better start.

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