But all the Penguins needed to wake up and realize who they were was a goal from superstar Sidney Crosby in his first game of the season after recovering from another concussion to ignite a 3-2 comeback victory over the Panthers Tuesday at the PPG Paints Arena.
Of course, Panthers coach Gerard Gallant felt that Crosby was given the superstar treatment when after a long shift, was on the bench resting when Greg McKegg was called for a high stick with Florida up 2-zip at the time.
Before the Penguins could start their always formidable power play, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had the good fortune of receiving a timeout for a skate adjustment. Finally, Panthers center Derek MacKenzie was screaming for the linesman to drop the puck but they waited until Crosby hopped over the bench to join his linemates.
Nine seconds later, Evgeni Malkin found Crosby all alone in the slot for his trademark one-timer past Panthers goalie James Reimer for his first goal of the season, 339th of his career and 17th against Florida in 33 games.
"We talk about that team taking advantage of odd-man rushes and we gave them three or four in the third period that we didn't do in the first two and it cost us,'' Gallant said. "[Crosby] shouldn't have been on the ice. … It was an extended timeout, it looked like to me.
"I didn't think it was right. I thought they waited too long. You see those plays happen all the time when you're stalling for time. [Fleury] obviously had a skate problem. It looked like it was a 2 1/2-minute timeout instead of two.
"We were in full control and all of a sudden it's 2-1 at the end of the second period. That's not the reason we lost, but going forward I'm disappointed to see the way it happened.''
That said, having all four Panthers on the far side of the circle surrounding Malkin, wasn't the ideal defensive coverage with Crosby left unguarded.
"We started off behind the eight ball there with getting down, but we just stayed in it and had a big second half. I don't remember,'' Crosby claimed on the timeout issue. "I had some time there, so you want to make sure you put that one in when you have that much time.''
The 4-2-1 Penguins are now 5-0-2 in their last seven games against the Panthers, who drop to 3-2-1.
Clinging to a 2-1 lead after two periods, the Panthers caught a break when Phil Kessel rang the crossbar at 3:30. But at 5:36, Carl Hagelin's toe-drag and wrister got through Reimer's (19 saves) armpit to tie it 2-2.
At 9:42, Matt Cullen's pass initiated an odd-man rush in which Tom Kuhnhackl got around Panthers defenseman Jason Demers before spoon-feeding Eric Fehr for a deposit under Reimer's pads, turning a two-goal deficit into a 3-2 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"They're a good team and took advantages of the few chances they had, and that was the game,'' said Reimer, who made 19 saves to go 0-1-1 in his first two starts with the Panthers. "Obviously, a couple of saves I could've made, but that's the way it goes sometimes.''
Leading 1-0 after one, the Panthers continued to skate circles around the Penguins until defenseman Ian Cole had the audacity to collide with former Penguins great Jaromir Jagr at center ice. With Jagr down, rookie Shane Harper, fresh off his coming-out two-goal party on Saturday, fed a streaking Mark Pysyk, who redirected it past Fleury at 6:08.
For Pysyk, the former Sabres defenseman, it was his sixth career goal in his 131st game and first as a Panther. Jonathan Marchessault got the secondary helper for his team-leading eighth point.
The Panthers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 18:02 of the first period on a power-play goal by Reilly Smith, who swatted in a rebound for his first tally of the season. The Panthers outshot Pittsburgh 8-4 in the period but finished at 22 shots apiece.
Jagr receives plaque
The Penguins are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the franchise this season, so after morning skate a team spokesperson presented Jagr with a silver plaque that was made up of the old roof of the Civic Arena a.k.a. the Igloo with his name and jersey No. 68 inscribed on it.
"Don't forget it's a long time ago,'' said Jagr, who scored 439 of his 750 goals with Pittsburgh, where he also won his only two Stanley Cup titles in his first two NHL seasons (1990-92). "It's been nearly 15 years … so those fans that were coming to the arena when I was playing for Pittsburgh, they're not coming anymore. They're probably dead or not interested anymore.''