Pittsburgh Penguins break in Consol Energy Center with 4–0 preseason record

Credit: Courtney Chin/Sports Editor Credit: Courtney Chin/Sports Editor Credit: Courtney Chin/Sports Editor Credit: Courtney Chin/Sports Editor

This is an exciting year for Pittsburgh hockey. The Pittsburgh Penguins recently completed their preseason games, ending with a 4–0 record. But these were no ordinary games, especially on the night of Sept. 28, when the Pens faced the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks took to the ice in an arena filled with eager Pens fans thunderously cheering for their team — 18,087 fans, to be exact, though a couple of red jerseys speckled the crowd. The energy and passion emanating from these Pittsburghers (at a sold-out preseason game, no less) was infectious, and every time the Pens got one into the Hawks’ net, air horns, clapping, and cheering combined into a monstrous sound wave that was overwhelming even at the highest level of the arena. Both teams played their big guns alongside fresh talent: The Pens lined up veterans Evgeni Malkin, Maxime Talbot, and Craig Adams, while the Hawks brought out Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook. Whether it was due to sharp playing or home-court advantage, the Pens completely dominated the Blackhawks with a 4–1 victory, including a scoreless second half on the Hawks’ part.

The Pens flew out of the gate when the puck dropped, going up 1–0 with 12:21 on the clock after a goal by center Malkin, assisted by left wing Eric Tangradi. In the second quarter, the Hawks’ Kyle Beach broke the Pens’ defenses and added a goal to tie the game, the evening’s quietest moment. Five minutes later, left wing Dustin Jeffery shot for goal while knocked down by a Hawk; he scored to put the Pens up 2–1. To add more drama to the game, the ice rink became a temporary boxing ring when Pens defenseman Deryk Engelland got into a fist fight with Hawks’ center Jake Dowell, resulting in penalties for both. After halftime, the Pens stepped up their game and scored two with assists by the Hawks. The first was with 8:25 in the third period, when right wing Nick Johnson aimed the puck at goal, and Hawks’ defenseman Brent Seabrook accidentally knocked the puck into his own net. The second also came in the third period, with 8:47 on the clock, when Pens’ center Mark Letestu went for the goal and shot the puck in off the Hawks’ goalie. The Pens kept a strong defense throughout the remainder of the period and fended off several goal attempts with deft saves by goalie Brent Johnson.

“I certainly like the fact that we’ve won the games in here, I like the fact that we went into the third period with a 2–1 lead and that they came out of there with one goal,” head coach Dan Bylsma stated during the press conference after the game. “We got three, four, and we kept it at one goal — that’s something we’ve talked about and something we’re trying to identify with their team. To win a one- goal game, and when we have a lead in the third, we know how we’re going to play it and how we are going to hold that lead to win games, and it is certainly something we’d like to build on.”

In addition to playing host to prestigious professional sporting events, the new Consol Energy Center arena is also a budding cultural center for Pittsburgh. Paul McCartney, a former Beatle and legendary musician, opened the Consol Center with a concert on Aug. 18, and Pittsburgh is set to host the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, the semifinals and finals of the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championships. Just last month, pop icon Lady Gaga filled the stadium with her catchy songs and eccentric dance routines. The center will feature over 100 non-hockey events in the coming year.

For Tom McMillan, vice president of communications, the Consol Energy Center is more than just a new home for the Pens. “Every city needs an entertainment center, and this one is a 21st-century entertainment center; and God bless Mellon Arena, but it was designed in the late 1950s, so it was well past its prime. We were really starting to lose a lot of events, and that’s not good for the city.” He added, “Even before we opened the doors, the arena started to deliver on its promise about the types of events we were missing in Pittsburgh, events that we are going to get in addition to Penguins hockey. It’s really more of a community center than a football or basketball stadium. It’s going to become what an arena really should be and what we’ve been missing for a while.”

The Pens begin their regular season with a home game on Oct. 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers.