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Penguins Notebook: ‘Few Things to Clean Up’; Bedard Bedazzles



Ryan Donato goal Chicago Blackhawks

The problems were familiar, even if a lot of the names weren’t, during the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-2 loss to Chicago in the regular-season opener Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.

But one of the many new guys, defenseman Ryan Graves, suggested that his team’s failure to protect a two-goal lead is not cause for panic, despite the echoes of issues the Penguins have had in the past.

“There are just a few things to clean up that will tilt the ice a little more in our favor,” said Graves, who recorded a game-high four blocked shots. “We’ll build on it. We’ll figure it out.”

They certainly didn’t do that against the Blackhawks, giving up four unanswered goals after Bryan Rust and Sidney Crosby staked them to a 2-0 advantage less than 12 minutes into the opening period.

“We need,” Graves said, “to do a better job of hanging on.”

Bedard hype is legit

The Penguins held Chicago center Connor Bedard without a goal, the first time a No. 1 overall draft pick who made his NHL debut against them failed to score.

(The ones who did were Buffalo’s Gilbert Perreault, Eric Lindros of Philadelphia, the New York Islanders’ John Tavares and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton.)

Bedard, though, showed why he is considered the best young player to enter the league since Connor McDavid.

He’s an excellent skater with a hair-trigger release on his shot, and his impact on the game went far beyond the second assist he earned on Chicago’s first goal.

Bedard finished with a team-leading five shots on goal while logging 21 minutes, 29 seconds of ice time, more than any Blackhawks player except defenseman Seth Jones.

“I’m sure he’s going to be a good player in this league,” Graves said.

Because Bedard still is 18, his game figures to evolve before the Penguins face him again Feb. 15 at the United Center, and there is at least one aspect of his game that he surely will look to improve: Bedard handled 13 faceoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but won just two of them, including a 0-8 mark in the first period.

Good review for Guentzel

First-line left winger Jake Guentzel, appearing in his first game — exhibition or otherwise — since undergoing ankle surgery, failed to score on a couple of chances that he usually would put in the net, but had a fairly solid showing, with four shots and a couple of hits.

“It’s not easy,” Crosby said. “No training camp, no preseason. I thought he did a really good job. He looked like he was ready, especially given what he has missed.”

Quick on the draw

The Penguins were a better-than-average club on faceoffs in 2022-23, winning 52.1 percent of their draws.

They got off to a good start in that facet of the game against Chicago, controlling 40 of 59 draws, a success rate of 68 percent.

Lars Eller set the pace, going 8-2, but he wasn’t the only one to have a good night. Evgeni Malkin (10-3), Crosby (15-9) and Noel Acciari (5-2) also did, while Rickard Rakell (1-1) broke even and Jeff Carter (1-2) was the only Penguin to finish below .500.

By the numbers

*** Members of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ No. 2 line, which has Malkin between Reilly Smith and Rakell, accounted for 12 of the team’s 40 shots on Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek, including a game-high six by Malkin.

*** No real surprise here, but Acciari was credited with more hits (5) than any other player on either team. He’d made it clear ahead of time that his physicality gets ratcheted up when the regular season arrives.

*** That Graves would lead the team in blocked shots was no surprise, but perhaps the guy immediately behind him would be: Erik Karlsson recorded three.

*** Mike Sullivan and his staff spread the ice time around pretty well. It ranged from a low of 10 minutes, 14 seconds for Carter to a high of 26 minutes, four seconds for Karlsson.