It never feels good to miss a photograph. It happens, though.
Certain photographs you would hate to miss. Overtime winners, important playoff moments, hat tricks and first NHL goals are among those examples.
For whatever reason Friday night, my camera and lens did not want to work together for extended periods of time and were a little slow to focus for parts of the game. So, when I tracked Teddy Blueger perfectly as he teed up on a drifting puck, buried his first career goal and then peeled directly at me for the celebration, I was disappointed and worried to see the first couple frames of the celebration come out soft and out of focus.
Luckily, the final frame of Blueger's scream to celebrate his first in the NHL was in focus and worthy of carrying our Live File throughout the game and then the top of this View from Ice Level.
I was able to get Blueger's actual shot as well, but it was the celebration that really carried the moment. First goal celebrations typically carry a lot more weight and energy behind them than a 27th NHL goal, and I was lucky enough to be right there as the scream carried out before the obligatory hugs occurred.
What did the rookie have to say about his goal? Our Dejan Kovacevic caught up with him after the game:
I was locked in, too, as I mentioned, so this would have been awfully painful to miss. The fan seated behind me, a friendly fella who attends most games, said to me before the celebration was complete, "I know that you got that."
I'm glad he had that confidence, because after seeing this first frame, I was sure that I missed it:
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann skated Friday morning in Florida. Then they hopped on a plane with their Panthers bags ... destination Pittsburgh. Not only did they have to deal with an hour delay on said flight, only arriving in Pittsburgh at 6:15 as our Taylor Haase uncovered, but they had to deal with arriving at PPG Paints Arena too late to partake in the warmup skate.
So, while the existing Penguins took the ice and skated, the brand new duo hadn't made it to the arena yet. They arrived with roughly 15 minutes until the anthems would ring through the crowd and got dressed as their new teammates took the ice and the starters lined up across the blue lines.
That's when the big screen switched to a view of the Penguins' hallway and showed the former Panthers arriving on the Penguins' bench and sharing a laugh and a fist bump with Matt Murray who was handling the door Friday in order to presumably be rested for a date in Toronto tonight.
That's all a longer way of saying, "these guys had no time to learn any part of the system or develop any chemistry with their new team."
One way of tackling that issue was being coached on the fly by the guys on the ice. As I mentioned on the Live File during the game, it's commonplace for the guys to talk to each other before a face-off, but it was pretty obvious to me that there was more to the conversations with Bjugstad and McCann -- particularly when talking with Jack Johnson.
After introducing myself to McCann in the locker room after the game, I picked his brain a bit about what I saw from my position and the coaching from Johnson:
"He basically told me to keep it simple and win the face-off," McCann told me through a laugh. "Yeah, you know he helped me a lot with the face-offs. I feel like when you have [defensemen] like that you can rely on, it makes your job as a centerman a lot easier."
While I was with McCann, I asked Dejan to pick another brain for me as well: Johnson's. Of course, the oft-resourceful spokesman had this to say of his communication with the two new centers:
“Most often, I was asking them what to do, since the center always calls the play off the face-off. But there were a couple times I was trying to help them out," Johnson told Dejan. "One in particular was when Ottawa lined up a certain way -- there’s this play they do a lot that we were told to be aware of, where a guy’s stretched out really far to the opposite side -- but the new guys couldn’t have known about it. I made sure we were all on the same page there.”
What these guys had to say definitely adds up to what I was seeing.
I most definitely thought it was more related to the Penguins' breakout tactic in a particular situation, but it turns out the conversations were mostly defensive in nature and simplifying the instruction to ... simply ... winning the draw. What better way to eliminate a Senators' whiteboard play than to just win the draw, right?
I can't help but think that Johnson was referring to an interaction I saw between he and Bjugstad in particular. Johnson was very animated with his hands and at the time I believed he was showing him the breakout path. Now it makes sense that he would have been drawing up the Senators' intentions in the air.
The image in this section of Ice Level was the interaction between the same two Penguins just before a defensive zone draw.
WHO NEEDS A STICK?
Kris Letang performs magic tricks nightly that make me wonder if I've ever been capable of even the most watered down version of his acts in my 30-ish years of playing ice hockey.
Sometimes it's stick-handling, protecting the puck or passing in an absolute phone booth. Other times, it's knocking the puck out of the air with such a casual ease, keeping the puck in the attacking zone. Often, it's using his quickness to pinch into a bad position just to recover before the puck moved through the neutral zone.
Friday night, Letang snapped his twig on a shot attempt following a draw win and scrambled in retreat to defend the Senators' advance.
Like he does, Letang read the play with ease and instinctively moved to intercept a pass. Of course, without a stick, options were limited. So, the defenseman lowered a knee and knocked the pass down with his body. The Senators were still able to gain the zone, but Letang stuck with his guy, switched off after a pass and separated his assignment from the puck, allowing the Penguins to counter.
Just watch it a few times and enjoy some of the best, but not very heralded, stick-less defense you'll see for a long time:
As always, the game's best images can be seen below. See you guys and gals in the comments.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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