Let’s skip past the PHN analysis because we don’t get a say, a vote, or otherwise any input into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup decisions. While it may be shocking to some that media do not control the situation (and shocking to some media, too), head coach Mike Sullivan and GM Ron Hextall are the final arbiters of who played well, who stays and who gets a firm handshake and bus ticket out of town.
The Penguins were not very good on Monday night. Their first exhibition game was closer to a flop than success, and the Columbus Blue Jackets organizational depth beat the Penguins prospects and org depth, 3-0 at PPG Paints Arena.
Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen, John Marino, and goalie Tristan Jarry were the only NHL regulars to get a sweater, though P.O. Joseph was also in the lineup. Joseph played 16 games last season to generally positive reviews.
PHN graded Joseph’s performance on Monday night as fair. It would have been a B- or C+; he didn’t make mistakes, but he didn’t elevate his game. Sullivan seemed to share the feeling of wanting more from Joseph, a strong contender to take an NHL job when the regular season pucks drop on Oct. 12 in Tampa Bay.
“I thought P.O. was fine, and for being the first game, we have higher expectations for guys that have NHL experience. P.O. is one of those guys,” Sullivan said. “So we did use him a lot. We used him on the power play, Todd (Reirden) used him in almost every situation. So I thought he defended well. I think he’s picked up a step speed-wise. I thought his pace was pretty good, and so we’ll continue to watch it. It’s hard to evaluate after one game…”
Fine is never good, is it? It’s OK. It’s not bad. It is “could be better, could be worse.”
The left-handed Joseph got one shot on the net and attempted three others. Columbus gifted the Pittsburgh Penguins five power plays, which is not good for Joseph, who saw significant PP1 time.
Just one shot on five power plays is something they will discuss.
Joseph has more to give. The team itself was blasé, but that’s when coaches are watching to see who pushes the group to another level, who breaks free from the malaise.
One player did everything he possibly could: defenseman Cam Lee. He led all players with six shots, and more importantly, stood out. Sullivan’s praise was unique and perhaps befitting a player seen not as an NHL player but rather a Pittsburgh Penguins depth piece.
“I thought I thought Cam had a pretty good game. You know he plays with a lot of energy. He’s a trier. You can see the urgency in his game,” said Sullivan. “He’s a real competitive kid. He has good poise with the puck. I think he makes some nice plays on the power play. He’s got deception to his game. I thought he did some really good things out there.”
Lee, 23, got under Anthony Angello’s skin in a training camp scrimmage, too. Angello is at least five inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Lee. There’s no shortage of effort from Lee, so for that, he should be commended.
In our immediate postgame analysis, PHN graded Legare as one of the tweeners. He had good moments but otherwise did not throw a knockout punch to begin that process of forcing himself into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup.
Legare did use a burst of speed out of the defensive zone and past a Columbus defenseman at center ice to create a two-on-one in the first period. That was the moment that stood out for PHN. Sullivan noted some of Legare’s defensive work, which also resulted from his vastly improved skating.
“I thought Nathan had a pretty good game. You know, I think his pace has picked up. He tracked on the backcheck a couple of times, caught guys from behind. I definitely think he’s picked up a step or two based on the last time that he was here,” Sullivan said. “And so that’s just part of his maturation. But he can really shoot the puck. He’s a competitive guy. He’s not afraid to get involved physically. He gets his nose over pucks. He plays in the battle areas. I thought he competed hard in the tough areas tonight.
He had a couple of good scoring chances. He had that one on the power play–that play from behind the net was a real nice play. So, I thought he did a lot of nice things out there.”
Legare finished with three shots and one hit.
Update: NHL stats were updated to show Legare had three hits.
We’ve been tracking Legare’s skating and development for two years. Just imagine a mid-season call-up with a booming right-handed shot playing beside a talented center able to put the puck on his stick in the slot. However, Legare could still make the club with standout performances in the coming preseason games.
What coach would not want that shot and physicality in his lineup?
The Penguins next preseason game is Friday in Buffalo. Then Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.