A Broadway play will have a few dress rehearsals to work out timing and problems before the actors brave the stage for opening night. Such were the Pittsburgh Penguins who played with most of their full NHL roster for the first time in five preseason games Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins got a good special teams workout in the second period, but it was a fourth-line even-strength rebound goal by Dominik Simon which pushed the Penguins past Detroit 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
Brandon Tanev, Bryan Rust, Simon, and Sidney Crosby scored for the Penguins but the pace and flow of the game came to a grinding and screeching halt in the second period. The teams traded penalties, including a pair of penalties committed by the team on the power play. The teams committed five penalties in the second period, which gave Justin Schultz ample time to shine on the power-play point.
Analysis & Impressions
In the offensive zone, Shultz pushed the play. He crashed on the wall and moved the puck well. Schultz gives Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan the option to deploy several looks. Schultz played at the point with fellow righty Kris Letang, and Schultz was used as the single defenseman with Malkin as the other point. The multi-front power play looks will force Schultz to frequently adjust, but he took the opposite approach; the multi-looks will force the opponents to adjust even more.
“It’s a lot different because me and (Letang) are interchangeable. Sid and Geno [sic] can switch spots. I think it’s going to be tough for penalty kills to get a read on us because we have options,” Schultz said. “It’s a lot of work to be done to get ready for our opener but we had some good looks tonight.”
The Penguins have no less than a half dozen configurations for their man-advantage. That’s probably a few too many even for the talented Penguins. Head coach Mike Sullivan promised to use the last preseason game to make final decisions on his available setups. Though Crosby probably provided the best analysis when asked by PHN about the multitude of options.
“You’re still looking for similar looks. I think it is guys getting familiar with areas on the ice and reads,” Crosby said. “You don’t have to overthink it. I think guys know why they’re out there and what their jobs are.”
Schultz had a pair of primary apples, as Brandon Tanev neatly deflected a point-shot in the first period and Rust barreled to the net to redirect Schultz’ pass in the second period.
Call it a feeling or nitpicky. Marcus Pettersson-Schultz were good in the offensive zone but weren’t strong in the defensive zone. They lacked “swagger” or confidence behind their own blue line. When Malkin had to clean up defensive zone pucks, it was with that pair. They’ll have to collectively become more aggressive defenders.
The Penguins regulars faced an adequate Detroit team which brought nine NHL regulars. The final score mattered far less than the forming chemistry and results of new combinations. And, of course, Sidney Crosby’s and Evgeni Malkin’s ability to figuratively flex their muscles.
Crosby is like a Swiss watch. Any fears that he was hiding an injury, which were stoked by his preseason absences, were laid to rest.
Malkin exerted himself. At times, he looked like a great white shark hunting seals in South Africa. He lurked, he attacked, and he recoiled for the next attack. Only a stiff arm to the chest by former Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley prevented Malkin from stickhandling around three defenders for a clear shot on net in the first period.
Perhaps most importantly, Malkin was not cute at the blue lines. He was direct and he cleaned up a couple of loose pucks deep in his own zone. If you’re a poolie or fantasy player, draft Malkin with confidence.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lineup: The Rest
Nick Bjugstad continued to learn the penalty kill craft. He appears to be a natural. His long, long reach is disruptive. He doesn’t hesitate to closely pressure the point, and his 6-foot-5 frame creates quite a shadow.
Per standard practice, at 5v5 the Bjugstad and Hornqvist created a few chances but did not score.
Bryan Rust had four shots on goal and was a good compliment to Malkin’s big presence. Rust just missed a few Grade A scoring chances before he buried the Schultz pass. Dominik Kahun played left wing on that line. He was solid, if unspectacular. It must make a player’s head spin to be dropped into a machine like the Penguins top lines. Kahun has done his job but thoughts of him scoring 25 goals are probably overreaching.
Teddy Blueger is going to be just fine on as the fourth-line center. His speed and aggression show well. He plays better with speedy players like Rust than he does with a player like Aston-Reese. Perhaps it will be Aston-Reese who begins the season as the 13th forward as head coach Mike Sullivan had effusive praise for Simon.
“(Simon) understands how we are trying to play and what he brings to this team. We’re not asking him to change, regardless of which line he plays on,” Sullivan said. “Dom is a good hockey player. He’s strong on pucks and I’ve said this on a number of occasions, next to Crosby, he might be the stiffest guy we have when he gets over pucks.”
Yep, that was Sullivan comparing Simon and Crosby.
The only regular who didn’t play was Alex Galchenyuk. Sullivan reported Galchenyuk has a nagging lower body injury so the team decided to give him a rest.
PHN will have a shift by shift breakdown of Juuso Riikola’s night as the sixth defenseman for Thursday. The Pittsburgh Penguins have one more preseason game, which is Saturday.