Preseason games are not the Stanley Cup. They are not even a regular-season game against an out-of-conference opponent. The Pittsburgh Penguins NHL regulars were burned for a pair of goals in the first period but found energy later when Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker breathed life into the game. Drew O’Connor scored a pair of goals, but defensive mistakes plagued the Penguins.
The Penguins tied the game in the final minute when Kapanen poked a rebound which first hit two players in front. After an extended shootout, the Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 in a shootout at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night.
The game may have represented the last best chance for P.O. Joseph, Juuso Riikola, Mark Friedman, and Radim Zohorna to make a good impression.
There were high points for several. There wasn’t a knockout punch, though O’Connor continued to force his way onto the NHL roster with a pair of goals. One was an example of a kid whose ready, the other was a classic soft serve, but they both count.
The Penguins’ first goal allowed was a clown-car effort in which three players lost their man or the battle. Almost six minutes into the game, defenseman Marcus Pettersson was gobbled up by the Sabres forecheck and turned the puck over along the wall. Anthony Angello wasn’t able to knock it out of the zone. Filip Hallander was slow in transition.
Hallander’s man–household name Brett Murray chipped it past Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith.
Later in the first period, Vinnie Hinostroza was gifted a free whack near the crease when the Penguins played hot potato with the puck after a defensive zone faceoff.
Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin looked on as Hinostroza crashed the net and popped it past DeSmith. 2-0.
The Penguins likely received a little encouragement from head coach Mike Sullivan after the first period. Or threats to play in Wheeling. The team played a much better second period. The speed differential was noticeable, as was the coordinate effort.
Drew O’Connor has been very good, especially over the past five days. He was good in Buffalo on Friday. He was very good on Sunday against Detroit. And he scored a pretty goal on Tuesday.
O’Connor got a tap pass with speed out of the defensive zone, backed in a couple of Sabres defensemen, dropped the puck for Danton Heinen, got it right back in the slot, and whipped it past Dustin Tokarski.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had five high-danger scoring chances in the second period and dominated overall scoring chances, too (61.5%).
However, as was the case far too often last season, the Penguins PK dropped an egg at the worst moment. Late in the second period, the Pittsburgh Penguins PK with Drew O’Connor and Kasper Bjorkqvist up high, Brian Dumoulin, and Mark Friedman down low, simultaneously lost their coverages.
Only O’Connor was able to pick up a man as the Dumoulin tripped over DeSmith, which created a rebound. Dumoulin was flat on the ice, O’Connor grabbed one would-be scorer, but Friedman and Bjorkqvist were late to the net, and Victor Olofsson had an easy rebound snipe.
Another PK letdown spoiled an otherwise superior period. And that’s why Sullivan has put particular emphasis on the penalty kill in training camp. The bubble players who stick will likely be able to play shorthanded.
Anders Bjork gave the Sabres a 4-3 lead before Kapanen tied it late. Bjork ripped a shot through Joseph and a screen. Joseph didn’t do enough to get DeSmith a view and impeded DeSmith’s ability to see the shot.
The Penguins outchanced Buffalo 8-5 in the second period and 11-5 in the third, but the PK and Joseph’s defensive miscue pushed the game to the shootout.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card
Marcus Pettersson-Mark Friedman: Ouch
Pettersson was slow to a couple of pucks, and it cost the Pittsburgh Penguins one goal and nearly another. I don’t grade him very well on Tuesday. It’s hard to fault Mark Friedman on any of it. Perhaps the video will show Friedman didn’t hustle into position fast enough or didn’t give Pettersson enough of a target, but it sure looked like Friedman was just fine, and in fact, strong at times.
Friedman did not experience the smooth experience that Chad Ruhwedel did on Sunday.
P.O. Joseph-Juuso Riikola: B-
Riikola made one mistake which resulted in a two-on-one, but he was solid enough on the right side. It’s not his favorite position, but he moved the puck well on his backhand and kept his game simple. He pinched and crashed appropriately.
Joseph was a bit conservative, again. He screened Casey DeSmith on Buffalo’s fourth goal. That was a rookie mistake. We know Joseph can play in the NHL if needed, but he didn’t have the type of preseason that screamed, “NOW!”
Radim Zohorna: C+
It’s not a bad C+. It’s a didn’t do a lot, C+. He scored the Penguins’ third goal because he raced up the ice with Kasperi Kapanen after the Penguins defensemen and Jason Zucker made a blue line stand.
Zohorna was…just fine. There were a few moments when he stood out. One specific forecheck displayed his speed, and he closed from the blue line to the goal line in what seemed like a blink.
I’m torn on his long-term prognosis; will he slot as a center or wing? The Penguins are shooting for the stars by keeping him in the middle. I suspect he’ll become a pretty good middle-six winger.
Drew O’Connor: B+
It wasn’t his best game, but it was a good one. Two goals speak loudly, too,
On his rush, which resulted in the first goal, he very much reminded me of a former No. 10 who is now the GM of the Seattle Kraken. His 6-foot-3 frame capably zipped up the ice, but perhaps not so gracefully. He played the give-and-go well and finished the play. The visor over his nose completed the Ron Francis costume.
O’Connor on a line with Zach Aston-Reese? In the words of Judy Tenuta (look it up), “Hey, it could happen.”
Kasperi Kapanen: A+
He’s not on the bubble, but I wanted to tell you how much I’ve appreciated his effort and complete game in the preseason. His backcheck has been ferocious. When he’s on the ice, things happen.
Kasper Bkorkqvist: Improving
He was harder to play against in the second half of the game. He’s still not NHL-caliber, and it’s pretty easy to call. However, he was tough on the wall later.
I’m not yet a big believer, but he could become the banger the Penguins need. Could. His skating needs to improve a bit, and he needs to be far more consistent.
Filip Hallander: All Courses Incomplete
Brett Murray beat Hallander for the Sabres’ first goal. He was unnoticeable for the rest of the game. He was awarded an assist on O’Connor’s second goal, but it wasn’t a well-earned goal or point.
At one point, I asked a colleague if he was still in the game.
He was fine after being hit by a puck in the third period.
“He’s a big boy, he can take it,” joked Kris Letang.