HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — The end of the three-day origin story of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did not have the happy scoreboard ending the Penguins wanted. Still, for preseason game No. 5, at least one player gave coach Mike Sullivan a little bit more to think about ahead of next week’s final cuts.
The Ottawa Senators beat the Penguins 3-0 in front of a largely partisan Nova Scotia crowd. They were there to see Crosby, the hometown hero, except for the kid on the scoreboard who said his favorite player was Brad Marchand.
The crowd gently booed a nine-year-old. It was all in good fun, except for the Penguins’ result.
There were four players from Nova Scotia, a province of less than one million people, on the ice Monday. Ottawa’s Drake Batherson and Mathew Highmore joined the Penguins’ Ryan Graves and, of course, Crosby.
Evgeni Malkin thanked the people of Halifax and Cole Harbour after the game, then conceded with a grin, “(Crosby) was happy before (the game), but after a game, I think he was a little bit mad.”
Sullivan has followed through on promises for an open camp full of opportunity. Radim Zohorna got a shot beside Evgeni Malkin, and young defenseman Ryan Shea, who is on an AHL contract, might become the surprise keeper of training camp.
Sullivan gave Shea a primetime role beside P.O Joseph on the third pair Monday night. Shea, a lefty, played his off-side because Sullivan and the coaches wanted to see how he handled the game in case of injuries during the season.
“He brings a different dimension than some of our other guys. He’s a really good, solid defending defenseman. He’s got a really good stick. He has a decent size and can kill penalties, but he’s also a guy who makes all the passes as well,” Sullivan said Monday morning. “He has good puck skills. He’s not just an off-the-glass and out guy; we think he’s another guy that’s played well. So part of it is we’re trying to familiarize ourselves with his game. The other aspect of it is is we think he’s deserving of the opportunity.”
The Penguins had 22 shots after two periods, but the press row wondered aloud who was counting. The high-danger chances were few, and the Penguins lacked sustained pressure. Their shots and chances were largely one-offs (unfortunately, there wasn’t a detailed box score available on Monday).
In addition to Shea being solid, Zohorna seemed to create separation in his battle for an NHL roster spot. With few notable performances, Zohorna perhaps created the most chances.
Sullivan’s words about the big Czech forward repeated his answers over the last couple of days, but his tone was entirely complimentary, if not foreshadowing. Sullivan’s praise wasn’t the coach-speak recitation but a genuine accounting of Zohorna’s game.
“(He was) one of the guys that I thought was on his game. He had a lot of really good chances,” Sullivan said with a thoughtfulness. “He got a number of chances in the third period. Their goalie made a couple of big saves on him. I thought he made some plays.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Breakdown:
Power Play: F
Yikes. Their first chance was a shutout. No shots. No chances.
The second whack at the man-advantage was largely the same, except for a sequence of good movements that got the puck to Crosby near the net. However, Crosby’s pass was intercepted, and the threat fizzled.
The Penguins had several more chances in the third period, including a four-minute power play, but not only struggled to score, they struggled to get the puck on the net.
It’s a sputtering unit. Sullivan conceded the early struggles are feeding more struggles as great players are pressing. Expect Sullivan and coach Todd Reirden to make some changes, perhaps as early as Tuesday when the Penguins resume practice at the UPMC Lemieux Complex.
“I thought they had some looks early on. When you don’t score–these guys have high expectations of themselves–and then sometimes, when they don’t score, they put a lot of pressure on themselves,” said Sullivan. “With each power play, that mounts. So I think we just have to continue to work through it.”
The Penguins’ power play needs puck retrieval (Bryan Rust?), it needs to get dirty, not pretty, and it needs someone to create space. You’ll notice the Ottawa PK had no fear, and the Penguins’ PP had no ability to make them retreat.
Radim Zohorna: Winner?
I think he won the job Monday night. It’s not a certainty, and there are two more games to go, but expect more Zohorna with Malkin.
The tip chances near the net, the setup of Reilly Smith, and the forecheck. Don’t bet the bottom dollar yet, but I think Zohorna won the job.
His forecheck was good (that wingspan is impressive), but he didn’t look tentative in the offensive zone. He went to the net, moved the puck to create scoring chances, and looked good enough.
Blue Line: Yikes
The Penguins defensemen had a bad case of mistakes. Ryan Graves was caught a couple of times, including the Senators’ second goal, in which he jumped into the play despite Ottawa having clear possession of the puck, resulting in a breakaway. Graves caught the play but didn’t tie up Brady Tkachuk, who poked the rebound past Jarry.
Letang had a few gaffes.
Erik Karlsson had a few gaffes.
The Penguins are talented, but they will be an adventure on some nights. This won’t be the last game in which the opponents get a couple of shorthanded chances or capitalize on the Penguins defensemen doing too much. If you want defensive hockey, you’re in the wrong place.