The Pittsburgh Penguins got a glimpse of the NHL’s future when they faced Chicago rookie Connor Bedard in his pro hockey debut.
They should have been quite impressed.
They also got a look at their own present during a 4-2 loss to the Blackhawks in the regular-season opener Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena, and have to be concerned by much of what they saw.
Mostly, how they were unable to protect a two-goal lead against a team that is undergoing a major rebuild.
There also wasn’t much to like about their inability to generate much pressure, let alone a goal, on either of their power plays, to say nothing of their failure to convert a number of quality scoring chances against journeyman goaltender Petr Mrazek.
“I like to think we’re a better team than we showed tonight,” Mike Sullivan said.
Although Sidney Crosby got Bedard’s NHL career off to an inauspicious start by beating him cleanly on the opening faceoff, Bedard was a presence throughout the opening period, logging 6:30 of ice time and accounting for a team-leading three of the Blackhawks’ 17 shots on Tristan Jarry.
Jarry rejected all of them, including two Chicago manufactured while Lars Eller was serving a minor for interfering with Mrazek at 4:53.
The Blackhawks kept play in the Penguins’ end for the first 90 seconds of that man-advantage, but failed to beat Jarry.
Bryan Rust put the Penguins in front, 1-0, at 7:04, when he deflected a Kris Letang pass behind Mrazek.
The officials initially believed Rust’s tip had caromed off the goal frame, but video replay made it clear it had struck a support inside the net. Eller got the second assist.
Mrazek, who finished with 38 saves, kept Chicago within a goal with a series of good stops over the balance of the period.
He denied Crosby on a breakaway, thwarted Jake Guentzel from close range and turned aside Erik Karlsson and Rust during the Penguins’ lone chance with the extra man.
Mrazek robbed Reilly Smith from low in the right circle at 3:55 of the second, but Crosby got a measure of revenge at 11:56, when he took a cross-ice feed from Guentzel and beat Mrazek from below the left dot.
The Blackhawks challenged that the goal had been scored after the Penguins were guilty of being offside, but a video review confirmed that had not been the case.
Chicago was assessed a delay-of-game minor for its failed effort to have Crosby’s goal waved off, but the Penguins were unable to capitalize on that power play and the Blackhawks quickly cut their lead in half.
Ryan Donato shook free from Marcus Pettersson, who had gotten the second assist on Crosby’s goal, in front of the net and backhanded a shot past Jarry at 15:37. Assists went to Alex Vlasic and Bedard, whose point was the first of what figures to be many that he will put up in the NHL
Smith had a chance to restore the Pittsburgh Penguins’ two-goal edge when he burst down the slot alone with 1:23 to go before the second intermission, but Mrazek stopped him.
Jarry preserved the Penguins’ lead by turning aside Corey Perry from close range during a power play early in the third period, but Cole Guttman beat him high on the glove side at 10:05 to make it 2-2.
Jason Dickinson put Chicago in front for the first time at 15:29, throwing a shot past Jarry from inside the right hash at 15:29 for what proved to be the game-winner, and Nick Foligno locked up the victory by scoring into an empty net at 18:33.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Wednesday and will resume practicing Thursday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.