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Preseason Finale: Penguins Top Sabres, 7-1; Final Moves Looming

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Malkin Zucker Buffalo

The battles for spots on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Opening Night roster are over.

Now, it’s time for the front office and coaches to determine the winners.

And to do it while getting into compliance with the NHL’s salary-cap ceiling.

The Penguins closed out exhibition play with a 7-1 victory over Buffalo Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust scored in the first 14 minutes of the opening period to put the Penguins in front to stay, as they finished the preseason with a 3-3 record.

Now the focus shifts to matters off the ice.

Sometime before 5 p.m. Monday, Ron Hextall, Brian Burke, Mike Sullivan and the organization’s other decision-makers will pare the major-league roster from 26 to 23 (or fewer) while trimming the team’s cap hit to no more than $82.5 million.

Per CapFriendly.com, the Penguins’ current roster puts them $3,343,508 above the cap ceiling.

There are 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders still in camp; the latter total includes Filip Lindberg, who was summoned from Wilkes-Barre when illness forced Tristan Jarry to sit out a game in Detroit Monday.

Defenseman Ty Smith, center Sam Poulin and Lindberg was the only players currently on the major-league roster who can be assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton without clearing waivers.

Assuming Jarry and Casey DeSmith are healthy, Lindberg is a lock to be returned to Wilkes-Barre, and Poulin — despite having an impressive showing during camp — seems likely to be sent there, too.

Smith has gotten regular work alongside Jan Rutta on the No. 3 defense pairing during the preseason, and figures to be in the lineup for the regular-season opener against Arizona next Thursday unless some cap complication gives Hextall no reasonable option but to demote him.

While the Penguins could get down to the 23-man roster limit by assigning Smith ($863,333), Poulin ($863,333) and Lindberg ($925,000) to Wilkes-Barre, those moves alone would not get them under the cap ceiling. Consequently, Hextall is going to have to either make a trade or expose at least one player to waivers.

It’s unlikely, however, that anyone played his way out of a job against the Sabres.

Jarry had to make a good stop on Jake Quinn during the first minute of play, but the Penguins took control shortly thereafter.

Guentzel made it 1-0 at 7:04 of the opening period, after Crosby picked off a Vinnie Hinostroza pass behind the Buffalo net and fed the puck to him near the right hash.

Guentzel returned the favor at 9:41, throwing a cross-ice pass that Crosby steered past Sabres goalie Eric Comrie from the left side of the crease.

Smith corralled a shanked shot by Rutta and slid a pass to Rust, who beat Comrie from the front lip of the crease at 13:49 to make it 3-0.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ forecheck overwhelmed Buffalo for much of that opening period, and they ran up a 13-6 edge in shots.

Although the Sabres regrouped during the intermission and started the second period strong, the Penguins had a chance to pad their lead when Buffalo defenseman Jacob Bryson was penalized for tripping at 4:26.

The No. 1 power-play unit looked to be in midseason form — which is to say, it was overpassing the puck really well — and eventually yielded a shorthanded goal to Vinnie Hinostroza, who beat Jarry from inside the right circle to cap a two-on-one break at 5:13.

The power play earned a measure of redemption at 10:11, when Crosby put a shot off Comrie’s glove and under the crossbar, and Smith made it 5-1 by wristing a shot past Comrie from above the right circle. Smith’s shot appeared to glance off a stick before eluding Comrie, who was being screened by Kasperi Kapanen.

Danton Heinen pushed the lead to 6-1 at 5:30 of the third. He took a pass in front of the net from Jeff Carter, who was falling to the ice near the right corner, and confounded Comrie with a series of moves before sliding the puck behind him.

Rust put an exclamation point on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ victory by scoring from the right side of the slot with 31.9 seconds to go in regulation., closing out the scoring and the preseason.

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Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Decisions, decisions….

Tough choices to make unless they can work a trade. Always feel comfortable with Ruhwedel as the spare defenseman. That leaves two to move. I’m for keeping Smith around. That leaves us with Friedman and Joseph. I am partial to the former not the latter.ideally we could move one via trade. Dump or Petts, but probably won’t happen. As to forwards we are two heavy and I liked what I saw in Archibald tonight. May need to move a forward. As I said, decisions, decisions….

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
1 month ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

They have the right number of forwards right now. If Blueger gets healthy, Poulin goes down. I wish they could keep Friedman and personally i would keep him over Ruhwedel. Give chad a chance to play with a new team.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago

The decisions should be about protecting assets. The 3 exempt from waivers should go down. Even though I wouldn’t want to lose McGinn, I would add hum to that list. McGinn would be a win/win because of the bad contract. The pens have 4 or 5 players that can fill that spot at a $2M savings.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dean
Alan Smith
1 month ago

Thought Poulin was one of the best last night! Good skill set, good net front and better size than most Pens! I always think the Pens are to small and last night they looked bigger than ever!