The Pittsburgh Penguins had two major players return to their lineup on Wednesday night when goaltender Matt Murray made his 2016-17 debut and Kris Letang returned from a five-game absence due to an upper body injury.
With them back in the lineup the Penguins roster is for the first time starting to resemble the one that won the Stanley Cup a few months ago.
Both players made a pretty big impact in a dominating 5-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
Murray, playing in his first NHL game since the Penguins’ Cup clinching win in June, stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced and looked mighty impressive doing so, especially early in the game as the Penguins took a while to really get moving.
He had been sidelined for the first month of the season due to a hand injury at the World Cup of Hockey when he was playing for Team North America.
Now that he is back in the lineup it creates a two-headed monster in net between him and a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury. Both players are good enough to be starters in the NHL — and have done enough to warrant a starting job — which means it is going to be fascinating to see how coach Mike Sullivan balances the playing time going forward.
While Murray was stopping pucks in his return to the lineup, Letang was doing what he does best: Help drive the Penguins offense.
He had a goal (his first of the season) and an assist in his first game since he was injured a couple of weeks ago against the Montreal Canadiens. Given the presence of star forwards like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, Letang’s importance tends to get overlooked in Pittsburgh. But he is a key cog in their offense given his ability to skate, move the puck and join the rush. Everything that happens tends to start with him and his ability to get the puck out of the zone and into the hands of the forwards. All that was on display on Wednesday when he finished with six shots on goal, dominant possession numbers, and was on the ice for three Penguins goals.
It is a different team when he is in the lineup.
Meanwhile, for Anaheim, Ducks goalie John Gibson continued to struggle against his hometown team, surrendering five goals on 34 shots. In four career appearances against the Penguins he has now given up 18 goals, including three games where he has allowed five or more.