Cranberry Twp, PA — The Pittsburgh Penguins practice was a brisque skate with specific instructions. They were embarrassed Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres and Evgeni Malkin verbally warned his team afterward. Friday, the coaches changed the Penguins lines because no one could have seen enough good things Thursday night to keep the status quo.
First, the Penguins worked on breakouts from deep in the corners. Forwards and defensemen worked to pull the puck from the boards and quickly move it ahead with sometimes three passes before they exited the zone. One overriding theme Friday was the north-south game. Stick tap to Paul Steigerwald for quickly spotting it. The Penguins were stymied by Buffalo Thursday, in part because they didn’t play with speed and they didn’t support the puck. The first 10 minutes of practice was dedicated to both.
There should not be a secret why they practiced that after Thursday night.
“It is nice to put (Thursday) behind us. It was not our best and we know that,” Patric Hornqvist said. “We have to play better as a team. All guys, too. We all have to step up.”
The coaches also shuffled the lines. Dominik Simon was elevated from the fourth line to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Patric Hornqvist went back to the third line with Nick Bjugstad, who wasn’t particularly sharp Thursday. Hornqvist and Bjugstad enjoyed a wealth of success together last season. And Dominik Kahun quickly lost his spot on the third line and was placed with Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese on the fourth line.
“They’re very aware of how we played. And that’s the most important thing is that we see it for how it is,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We have to be objective with ourselves and our performance.”
The defense pairings went back to the training camp projections, too. Jack Johnson played on the third pairing with Erik Gudbranson. Juuso Riikola swapped in with Johnson, too. So, we’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out who gets a sweater and who gets pressbox nachos.
Marcus Pettersson skated with Justin Schultz on the second pairing, as he did throughout the training camp.
PHN asked forward Zach Aston-Reese about what Buffalo did to be successful and why the Penguins weren’t. His answer relayed the Penguins mood Thursday night.
“Just everything,” he quipped before explaining himself more fully. But we’ll just leave the initial expression stand.
The Penguins are fighting themselves to erase last season, pushback the hands of time, find a team identity with a crop of new faces and compete in the meantime. It won’t be an easy task but the mood in the room was far better Friday than Thursday night.
Zach Aston-Reese said sometimes it’s better to get punched in the mouth early. For the record, the Penguins players knew they gave up seven odd-man rushes. Buffalo realized they had the Penguins on the ropes and sent a flyer out of the zone fishing for breakaways. Believe it or not, the Penguins scouted that and still weren’t prepared.
“We had our moments when we had some sustained offense (Thursday). It certainly wasn’t consistent enough and I think the biggest takeaway for me after breaking the film down was a lot of isolated effort, not cooperative effort,” Sullivan said. “And that’s what we showed them on film this morning. We’ve got to work together as a group of five out there.”