The Pittsburgh Penguins organizational depth was prevalent Saturday as the Penguins evenly battled a more NHL heavy Columbus Blue Jackets roster. The Penguins depth showed well as Juuso Riikola scored the Penguins lone goal but the team outshot Columbus 25-22 and outhustled Columbus, too. However, a second-period fluky bounce off Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson’s knee behind the goalline provided the Columbus game-winner as the Penguins lost 3-1 at Nationwide Arena.
The Penguins even dabbled with a neutral zone trap. Chalk that up to the rush of new blood and new personnel on the NHL team which allows the Penguins coaches to tinker and add new schemes. Call it a hunch, but the Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel line would not have excelled with anything resembling a disciplined trap.
After three preseason games, names and faces are beginning to emerge. The Penguins have 13 forwards with NHL contracts, and barely enough salary cap space for those 13, but there are a few players who are showing well and are in the mix to be the first call-up or stick with the team should Penguins GM Jim Rutherford swing a preseason trade.
Sam Lafferty has jumped the line. His strong showing in training camp and preseason should merit a look until the very end. He’s 24-years-old, and no longer a “prospect” per se, but last season was his first full professional season. Specifically, Lafferty is playing a grimy, tough game as a center. He’s winning corner battles, making smart plays and the puck seems to follow him.