PITTSBURGH — Yeah, yeah the new Consol Energy Center is a magnificent building.
It looks a lot like most of the other new magnificent buildings (New Jersey’s Prudential Center is the first that pops to mind), so that means it’s a lot unlike the old Mellon Arena, which was very much outdated, like a certain video board we all know.
“It was a tough start for us here,” Penguins centre “Mad Max” Talbot said Monday morning, referring to the fact his team had lost its first three games and were 1-3 at the CEC heading into a visit by the Senators.
“But it’s an unbelievable building, obviously. It’s a big difference (from the Mellon). I think there will be a lot of wins in this building.”
The Senators helped them to one Monday night.
They were mostly horrible, although also victims of some tough bounces, in dropping to 1-4-1. The fall could very well continue Friday, as they next take their struggling offence into Buffalo to face Ryan Miller.
Down 3-0 early
Any hope the Senators would snap to attention by playing the Penguins, the team that bumped them from the playoffs last spring, was squashed by the first intermission, when the home side held a 3-0 lead.
“There’s almost a built-in rivalry,” coach Cory Clouston had said after the morning skate when asked if his fellas would find extra motivation against what has become their regular, post-season dance partner.
“There’s some familiarity with both teams. That, to me, creates some intensity, in and of itself.”
Not enough of it from the Senators.
It’s officially time to be concerned.
STARTS AND STOPS
Two turnovers by D Brian Lee on the same shift early in the second, when the Senators were down 3-0, led to great scoring chances for the home side. They also prompted Clouston to bench Lee and rotate five defencemen. That interrupted the one pairing that had been going pretty good — the newly formed shutdown duo of Chris Phillips and Matt Carkner. (Doesn’t it seem like just a year ago that Carkner ended an eight-year stint in the minors by making the Senators out of training camp?) ... Not only does the CEC cater to fans, but also to players. Talbot notes that the chef hired to work the home dressing room cooks up omelettes in the morning and, after games, chicken, pasta and the like for Penguins. “Everything is top notch. It’s the best building in the league,” said Talbot. “The therapy room, you got hot tub, cold tub. The food is there, after practice, after games. When you look at a replay on the jumbotron, you can see who scored the goal. Back at Mellon, you almost couldn’t see. Everything makes it really convenient for everyone.” ... Could sorta guess what kind of a night it was going to be for the Senators by the 2˝-minute mark of the first period. At that point they had already committed two turnovers — the first when a Sergei Gonchar defensive zone pass to Erik Karlsson bounced over the latter’s stick, allowing Tyler Kennedy an in-close chance Brian Elliott turned back; the second, a Chris Kelly handoff to Evgeni Malkin sent the Pens sniper in alone, only to fire the puck over the net.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM
Gonchar was not booed upon his first return to Pittsburgh in enemy colours. Au contraire, mon ami. During a first-period stop in play, a video montage was shown (on that great scoreboard) featuring Gonchar and some of his finest moments as a Penguin. The roar grew louder as the clip continued and by the time it was done, the fans were on their feet giving Gonchar a standing ovation. He rose from his spot on the Senators bench to salute them back. Classy moment ... The Penguins are stealing Eugene Melnyk’s thunder. The Eagles are performing here Tuesday night ... Chris Neil survived a fight with Deryk Engelland without getting C.O’ed (Colton Orr’ed). Both players landed some good punches in an entertaining bout right after Malkin gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead ... Sidney Crosby, who is booed every time he touches the puck in Philadelphia, was asked if he’s rooting against the Phillies in the NLCS with the Giants. Crosby laughed. “Lets just stick to hockey,” he said. Yup, he’s a smart player off the ice, too ... Carkner is growing a moustache, although right now it’s something the cat could lick off. “I’ve got a bet with someone right now, I can’t name names,” he said. “But Mo-vember is coming up pretty soon too, so we’ll see what happens.”
BETWEEN PERIODS: Of course, the first visit back to Pittsburgh by the Senators since their triple overtime lwins in Game 5 of last spring’s first playoff round led to a conversation with Carkner about his marathon ending goal. “The next day, when I drove home to Carp, the school there put up a huge sign saying ‘Carp Loves Carkner’ ... there was a lot of positive feedback from it,” said the big D-man, who was inundated with text messages and phone calls of congratulations. “Obviously it was a great feeling.” His employer ensured it will remain fresh in his mind. “I have the stick, the puck ... the Sens put together a really nice picture frame with the puck and the stats sheets and a picture of me celebrating with the guys,” Carkner said. “It was a pretty classy thing they did for me.” ... Along with the 18,087 seats (in honour of Sid Crosby) and the 66 suites (a tribute to Mario Lemieux) another neat little fact about the Consol Energy Centre is that in Suite 66 you will find all the trophies and many personal keepsakes of historical significance accumulated by Lemieux in his phenomenal career — stuff YOU actually won’t see unless you’re a high-end client in Pittsburgh or have visited Mario’s house, where they were before he brought them to the new rink. Okay, I might as well fess up now. The small dent in his 1996 Art Ross Trophy is from me bouncing Sid into it during a game of mini-sticks a couple of years ago. Sorry M.L.