The Pittsburgh Penguins needed about seven minutes to make the Wells Fargo Center as quiet as the other 29 NHL arenas the past three months with goals by Tyler Kennedy and James Neal.
Despite the lockout that threatened the season, Philadelphia Flyers fans, eventually, made their presence known. This place was sold out for a 3-1 Penguins victory, one of 13 games that kicked off the NHL’s abbreviated 48-game regular-season schedule on Saturday.
“They have a lot of loyal fans and a lot of people who love their team here,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It was great to see that we’re still getting the turnout that we’re getting.”
That’s in Philly, where fans would walk through the turnstiles whenever the owners and players agreed to halt the third work stoppage in the NHL over the last 20 years. And full arenas like this one will be the norm — at least in most NHL markets — this weekend.
That’s not to say this latest stoppage won’t have an impact. It already has. The NHL has moved further outside the consciousness of the average sports fan. But had a fringe hockey fan or somebody new to the sport entered the building, he or she may not have noticed that we weren’t in the middle of an 82-game schedule.
“Thank your fans!” was not scribbled on the ice like had been after the last lockout, which cost the entire 2004-05 season. The play wasn’t crisp, although nothing worse than if both teams had come off long road trips in the middle of a grueling season.
“We knew it was going to be a little sloppy,” said Neal, the Penguins forward who made it 2-0 with a goal 7:20 into the contest. “Guys are still trying to get their timing down. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a game situation.
“We knew we weren’t going to come here like it was Game 6 of the playoffs where we’d whip the puck around making great passes. We knew we’d be scrambling.”
Flyers fans who wore the free orange “Let’s go!” T-shirts still disliked the Penguins star center as always, and the “Crosby Sucks!” chant began early.
Philadelphia became the latest team to offer a tiding, following half-price tickets, free jerseys along with merchandise and concession discounts announced by other teams after the owners and players agreed to a new collective-bargaining agreement.
The lockout centered around the owners’ desire to cut the players’ take of league revenues, limits to contract lengths and revenue sharing. The two sides agreed in principle to a 10-year deal (either can side can opt out after eight years) on Jan. 6 and the players followed the owners in ratifying the deal in Jan. 12 — leaving a just week for training camp before play began.
Maybe the Flyers had a week and one period.
"The first period was kind of ugly,” said new Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who scored Philly’s lone goal, in the second period. “Guys were trying to get their legs back. Things were a little sloppy.”
Don’t worry, the sloppiness should disappear. It’s only the first game and, sadly, a large part of Saturday’s crowd probably didn’t notice anyway.