The third day of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp was the most spirited drills and scrimmage of the weekend. Matt Cullen, 42, looked as if he has something to prove, and he probably does. Daniel Sprong also made waves in the scrimmage as did a couple of other players who probably won’t make the NHL roster: Sam Militec and Jimmy Hayes. Matt Murray made a few sparkling saves, and the Penguins roster is coming into focus.
However, don’t ready too much into current line combinations, or especially defensive pairings. Assistant coach Jacques Martin said, “it’s difficult in camp. We tried to spread out the veterans among the three teams,” he said. “We probably don’t have the combinations we’re looking for.”
Martin specifically mentioned Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang being separated camp but indicated that separation would be short-lived, “After (preseason) Game 2, you’ll see more o those experiments, trying people we feel will be a good combination.”
Take the good, take the bad, and there you have… Daniel Sprong. The Penguins again placed Sprong on the line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby. And the line again created offensive chances, Crosby even buried a nifty feed from Sprong. That’s the good.
The bad–Sprong struggled to get out of his own zone on the first shift. Defenders blocked Sprong’s chip off the wall, then he lost a puck battle, and was caught out of position on a breakout. Even his slick pass to Crosby, was a second chance effort after he failed to get the puck in deep.
Better–Sprong is playing fast. He is slipping away from defenders into open ice. That’s a huge development. His work in preseason games will tell the tale if this is a training camp bump against non-game ready players or he’s prepared.
Overall, Sprong is lightyears, LIGHTYEARS, ahead of where he was. He gets a solid A for his work this weekend.
PHN asked Crosby about Sprong’s play thus far. Crosby hedged a little bit–after all, player analysis isn’t part of a captain’s job description.
“It’s a few days of scrimmage and he looks pretty confident,” Crosby said. “You can see when guys have a few camps under their belt, they get a little more assertive. I think you can see that just from playing some games.”
Cullen showed up to work, Sunday. From the initial drills and stretch pass work, he had a jump in his skates. In the following battle drills, Cullen worked, and outworked, his opponents.
The 42-year-old is in a battle for playing time. Cullen centered Team 3’s top line with Dominik Simon and Patric Hornqvist. While Cullen’s unit had a tough time against Crosby’s trio, Cullen still showed speed and hustle.
Saturday, Cullen told PHN that LW isn’t necessarily less demanding, but as a winger, he will get to “focus more on offense.”
The absence of Derick Brassard (illness) and Riley Sheahan (injury, day-to-day) has opened a spot at center, not that Cullen needs the extra practice.
Evgeni Malkin also said Cullen apologized for the high stick which cost Malkin a couple teeth, Saturday. “He said sorry,” Malkin said jovially. Malkin accepted the apology, “It’s hockey.”
The Others: Hayes, Blueger, and Miletic
Big forward Jimmy Hayes had his best day of camp. Hayes was noticeable for good reasons, Sunday. Hayes had a sweat goal off the rush. He beat his man to the net and slipped the puck through his skates for a nifty deke. Hayes has otherwise looked slow in camp. Sunday was a good step forward. Hayes is in a battle with Zach-Aston Reese to be the 14th forward.
Teddy Blueger is fast. FAST. On a lesser team he would be ready for the NHL. Bluegger, 23, skated around defenders on a pair of occasions, Sunday. The Penguins glut of centers will keep him in the AHL this season but look for him to be a spark plug next season.
Sam Miletic. Officially count this PHN writer as someone excited to watch his development. Miletic went end-to-end and let defenseman Ethan Prow defenseless before sweeping a backhand deke around Tristan Jarry. Miletic is fast, has good eyes, and plenty of offensive skill. There are flaws to his game, but nothing which can’t be corrected with more seasoning and proper motivation (he does coast back to the defensive zone. Sound familiar?)
PHN’s Shelly Anderson profiled Miletic during Development Camp.
On a two-on-one break, Miletic feathered a beautiful saucer pass to Bellerive in the slot. Last season, which was split between London and Niagara in the OHL, Miletic posted
Miletic, the undrafted free agent who signed a three-year ELC last summer, could be a fun watch in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. He posted 36 goals and 56 assists. He’s no stranger to lighting the lamp. At 6-foot-1, 196 pounds he also has a professional frame.
Sometimes a reporter has to work extra hard for the interesting little nuggets. Several years ago, some controversy erupted over Marc-Andre Fleury’s bright yellow leg pads. Some claimed shooters could see more ice because of the contrast between the white ice and the yellow pads.
Matt Murray has new pads this season–mostly white, with a single yellow stripe. Is there a science to selecting pads?
“No, not really,” Murray told us. “They send me a few choices, and I just picked.”
Well…there went that hard-hitting six-part expose. Count me as someone who enjoys Murray’s plain, unassuming honesty even when it doesn’t feed a story you really want to write.