The Pittsburgh Penguins had a rough night for the first 30 minutes. The Detroit Red Wings mass of prospects who are finally NHL ready were fighting for jobs and the chance to take the next step. The collage of top-10 draft picks and young NHL’ers gave the Penguins prospects a class on the rigors of the next step.
Detroit blitzed the Penguins in the first period with 13 shots, compared to just six Penguins shots. Detroit also scored the first two goals, and Joe Veleno completed a strong game with a wicked shot from the top of the circle past Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith for the game-winner late in the third period. Tyler Bertuzzi scored an empty netter, and the Detroit Red Wings beat the Penguins 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena Thursday night.
It wasn’t a game the Penguins will speak of fondly.
In the latter half of the second period, the team found a bit of energy after Brian Boyle, Drew O’Connor, and Anthony Angello crashed the net for a couple of scoring chances.
Detroit still outshot the Penguins 17-11 in the second, even as the Penguins picked up the pace.
O’Connor, 23, continued his torrid preseason with his third goal. He’s a shoo-in for the Ryan Haggerty training camp star award. Unlike Haggerty, who wasn’t an NHL contender, O’Connor made another case for head coach Mike Sullivan and GM Ron Hextall to keep him around.
Sullivan iced perhaps the biggest line in recent Penguins memory. Brian Boyle is 6-foot-6. Drew O’Connor is 6-foot-3, and Anthony Angello is 6-foot-5. That’s about 19-feet-2 inches of Penguins.
NHL regular Mike Matheson was overall the best Penguins player. As the game was going sideways, Matheson pushed the puck deep and turned a couple of rushes into scoring chances.
Dominik Simon was also “obviously” an NHL player. In the third period, he scored an unassisted breakaway past Tomas Greiss to tie the game, 2-2.
Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Penguins, most of their lineup looked ready for the WBS Penguins, which is where they will likely be by Sunday.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card
We also don’t want to grade the players who are too far away from the NHL. We won’t hold Kasper Bjorkqvist, Filip Hallander, Nic Almari, and others to the NHL standard yet.
UPDATE: For the top prospects, Sullivan tip-toed but made his point, which was similar to ours: not yet.
“Their raw talent has been on display. You can see why they were drafted where they were. I think you can also see some of the immaturity in their game, and where they need to learn certain details to develop a more mature game,” Sullivan said.
We’re going to avoid grading the NHL regulars. Simon played well enough. Matheson was clearly a top-four defenseman, and Casey DeSmith was solid. Based on practice lines on Wednesday, it appears Simon has indeed earned a spot.
Sullivan also tabbed Simon.
“Dom was really good. Not only did he score a goal, but I thought he was stiff on the puck all night,” Sullivan said. “He makes plays, and wins puck battles and he makes plays out of traffic.”
Brian Boyle: Made the Team
He flexed his muscle figuratively on Thursday. He looked like an NHL player as he played hard in the low zone and created puck possession in the battle areas.
To use a line we’ve used before–he creates a big shadow on the PK. His looonnng reach poked a couple of pucks out of the zone.
Drew O’Connor: A-
We’ll have to deduct points for the otherwise brutal first period. Overall-against NHL defensemen and competition–O’Connor showed himself to be a legitimate option for the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line.
Another goal, too.
“I thought Drew O’Connor had a strong game. He’s really developed his two-way game. It’s come a long way,” Sullivan said.
Nathan Legare: Not Good
His bright spot was an angry wrestling match with top Detroit prospect defenseman Moritz Seider in the third period. Otherwise, Legare didn’t move his feet or get physically engaged.
Officials called him for a phantom penalty early in the first period, and he seemed to pull back after that. Even his typically aggressive forecheck was MIA.
It may have been his worst preseason game in his Penguins “career.”
Sam Poulin: D
A bad turnover late in the third period nearly cost the Penguins the game. He was otherwise AWOL.
It was a disappointing preseason for Poulin, who could have challenged for a roster spot. He needs to be more aggressive.
P.O. Joseph: OK
Joseph may have screened DeSmith on the game-winning goal and was beaten in the low zone twice.
Joseph got involved in the offensive zone a few times, and we want to see it more often. He also seems to cover players near the net, rather than battling to move them–the additional body creates more traffic. Joseph has a bit more work to do in his game–perhaps get that confidence back or that “eye of the tiger” that he had last January.
He can bring energy and electricity to the ice. Just much too conservative this preseason.
Radim Zohorna: Meh
Probably the worst game of his preseason. He was credited with three shots but lost eight of 12 faceoffs and never stood out. He didn’t use his speed enough, didn’t make the case that he should stick around.
It was a lackluster game for too many Penguins players who had one more chance to show well. Zohorna had slightly above average advanced stats, but Simon worked his “under the radar” magic to create offense. Hallander fired a few pucks toward the net to up the Penguins Corsi, but the line didn’t really pressure the Red Wings.
It generated one high-danger scoring chance and only three scoring chances.
Zohorna is probably headed to WBS. He needed a big game on Thursday and played small.