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For All the Marbles: Joseph and Friedman Get Last Chance

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes game, Mark Friedman fight

The Pittsburgh Penguins have one preseason game left.

Defensemen Mark Friedman and P.O Joseph have one last chance to earn a roster spot, Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Penguins have nine NHL defensemen. The roster dictates they can keep eight. Perhaps only seven. And Friedman and Joseph are squarely on the chopping block based on a training camp and preseason which featured Ty Smith as the third-pairing left-side defenseman.

Smith, 22, almost exclusively took reps and time beside Jan Rutta.

“Ty was someone we were really excited about this summer. (He has) been able to add a different dimension than we’ve currently had with our D-core,” assistant coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ve been able to see that offensively from him — Just his ability to operate on the offensive line and do some things on the powerplay has provided a different look than we’ve had here in the past.”

The Penguins acquired Smith and a third-rounder for the more steady John Marino. Smith’s offensive skills have been on display. He can walk the blue line, find lanes to get shots on the net, and distributes the puck well.

He has also shown gaps in his defensive game. After two NHL seasons, Smith has hit the highs and lows and, somewhat unbelievable, has already played nearly twice as many NHL games(114)  as Friedman (42) and Joseph (20) combined.

“(Defense is) an area we can help him improve,” head coach Mike Sullivan said a week ago.

Smith is also the only one of the nine defensemen who is waivers exempt, but thus far, it appears the Penguins are willing to keep Smith and expose one or both of the others to the other 31 NHL teams.

The Penguins had some trade discussions on Joseph this summer, whether nibbles or cursory interest.

Penguin’s Last Chance?

Sullivan could use the final game to get his NHL roster ready, but he said it would be another chance for players to make an impression or earn a roster spot. Based on the timeframe, it’s the last chance.

All three defensemen- Smith, Joseph, and Friedman- are likely in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup. Joseph and Friedman were not on Monday night against Detroit, but Smith was.

“(Friday) will play a role, without a doubt. We’re going to keep watch in training camp. We’re going to keep watching every experience,” Sullivan said. “And we’ll do our very best with (Hextall) and the staff to try to make the best decisions for the hockey team.”

Joseph has only one goal in 20 NHL games and received praise for righting his game last Saturday against Buffalo. However, he had to get ahold of his game because of a rough first period.

Friedman remains an X-factor. He is a gritty defenseman who is unafraid to stir opponents’ emotions with extra-legal hits. Sometimes he can go too far, putting his team shorthanded.

His offensive game is adequate, as is his defensive game. Yet he remains forever on the periphery.

In 2019, Sullivan used Juuso Riikola almost exclusively on the third pairing in preseason. It appeared he was finally getting his full-time NHL chance, but he didn’t make the cut. Could Sullivan have used the preseason to similarly learn where Smith’s game stands?

If Sullivan did, it would appear Smith has passed the tests, at least to an acceptable degree, though his defensive lapses present potential issues. Reirden nodded towards Sidney Crosby’s locker as a potential solution and path forward for Smith.

“…The every day of coming to work with some of the people we have in this locker room is sometimes underrated … I think he likes to learn and can continue to get better,” Reirden said. “It circles back to what I’m talking about with the players he has to practice with daily. When you get a chance to practice against Sidney Crosby every day and Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust down low … Ty can’t help but get better, and I think he’s been challenged every day to improve in those areas.”

Based on body language, hesitations, and head bobs when Pittsburgh Penguins coaches speak, Joseph is behind in the competition. The words have been positive, but the actions speak louder, though Reirden affirmed he thought Joseph was NHL-ready.

Friedman remains the unknown. Did they see enough last season and in the playoffs?

One or both Friedman and Joseph could be on waivers this weekend. Friday is the last chance.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Chris R
Chris R
1 month ago

Team Friedman.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris R

wildman > unassertive lank

Justin
Justin
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris R

I really think if this team and a little more grit most people would probably care less if Friedman was on the team or not, but since they virtually have none I vote Friedman!

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Move on from Joseph

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

Just to set the record straight on Friedman going too far and putting his team shorthanded, according to Natural Stat Trick he’s taken 10 penalties since joining the Pens and drawn 17. I’ll take that trade-off any day. Plus, he makes us harder to play against. Perhaps not top six, but given his edge and ability to play either side, an ideal No. 7. At least in my book.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

I like how Friedman plays, I just think he cant stay healthy enough based on his style and build. With that being said, I go Joseph and see if continues to mature. Find out now instead of waiting

Last edited 1 month ago by Rich Filardi
Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
1 month ago

Keep Freidman & Smith, cut your losses on Pettersson & Joseph.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
1 month ago
Reply to  Katz is Dumb

Pettersson seems to have settled in with Petry. Would not bet on them working out a trade. Although i am 100% on what you said. I feel like that means that Friedman or Ruhwedel need to go along with Joseph

Fredrick
Fredrick
1 month ago

I’d keep Friedman and Joseph. If I can trade Joseph and/or Ruhwedel I would trade either or both of them. I think Friedman has value because he can play the right or left side well.

Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
1 month ago

I would send Smith down for about a month and then try to sneak Friedman through waivers