The Pittsburgh Penguins eased into their first preseason game of the schedule. They outshot the Columbus Blue Jackets 12-2 in the first period but lacked intense pressure. Despite the Penguins’ lopsided shot advantage, Columbus even led 1-0 after one period and 2-0 after two periods. Emil Benstrom added an empty net goal with over two minutes remaining.
The Penguins went quietly, 3-0 despite five power plays.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lack of centers was apparent as Evan Rodrigues and Brian Boyle were the top two pivots. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising the Penguins struggled to generate consistent offense.
The Penguins outshot Columbus 29-22, but Cam Lee had six of those shots. Defenseman Mark Friedman had three, and Legare got a late shot to get to three, too.
To win a job, the youngsters will have to beat the incumbent. A player who can clear waivers or about whom the coaches are unsure has to win the job. Winning means standing out, even in these sloppy exhibition games.
To that end, it probably wasn’t a great night for any of the Penguins prospects with a realistic chance to break through the barrier into the lineup. Nathan Legare was a frequent player near the blue paint, but he didn’t get a good shot on goal. Legare misfired on a few.
Sam Poulin continued his quiet camp. He wasn’t a factor on a line with Evan Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen. It’s time for Poulin to be more aggressive in his pursuit of an NHL job.
P.O. Joseph was steady. He was quiet–which isn’t always bad for a defenseman–but he could have done more to push the play or create offense from the backside. It was a quiet night, for better and worse. Mike Sullivan seemed to confirm our analysis:
“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 forward 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…”
However, there were a few players who accomplished what they hoped.
Who Looked Good:
Well, duh. The best player in the game played like it. He was significantly better than anyone else on the ice, and it is evident as he dominated the puck at will and pushed the play near the net. He set up Sam Poulin for could have been the first goal of the game in the first period, but Poulin couldn’t bury it from a tight angle.
He also stood out as an NHL player amongst a sea of mediocrity. Freidman’s skating was clearly better than those around him, and he pushed the play. He looked good.
The big man looked like a veteran easing himself into the game but crunched a couple of Blue Jackets and set up scoring chances. He also showed his penalty-killing ability by closing off the top of the zone with his long reach. “Unfortunately,” the Penguins took only one penalty in the first 40 minutes (Sam Lafferty, slashing), so we didn’t get a good look at the PK unit.
He did what he needed to do to continue on the inside track for a roster spot. He also led the Penguins with three hits (tied with Jordy Bellerive).
Lee, 23, isn’t a serious contender for the NHL roster, but he shows some energy and grit. Lee fired six shots in the first 40 minutes, and coaches rewarded him with the third-highest ice-time, behind P.O. Joseph and John Marino.
After a lukewarm start to rookie camp last week, he’s been hustling and opening eyes. He looks like a player who wants to be here and who knows how the world works. The Pittsburgh Penguins have not exactly been able to stay healthy in the last five seasons, and Lee is putting himself in the conversation as a depth call-up.
Mike Sullivan called Lee, “a trier.”
Lee was hurt in the final 95 seconds and hobbled to the dressing room. Penguins defenseman injured? Rinse lather repeat.
Pittsburgh Penguins? Up and Down
There were times I liked what he was doing. He certainly got a good bit of ice time with five power plays. He played fast, he moved the puck, but he was also hesitant at times. It was an improving performance for the Finnish defender who has just 75 games of NHL experience in three seasons, but it wasn’t a stand-out.
As an NHL player, Heinen could have done more. Instead, he, too, was OK. It was tough to get a good gauge on Heinen, who was in the shadows.
The power forward went to the net. In the first period, he blew past a defenseman at center ice for a two-on-one. He got his stick on the puck when able and was present. Unfortunately, he didn’t get off any good looks and his grade would be a B.
It was something to build on, but he needs more to leapfrog Poulin and other NHL players.
The Penguins winger picked up where he left off last season: in the penalty box. He has NHL talent. He and head coach Mike Sullivan both talked about him becoming a penalty killer and gritty forward in the vein of Brandon Tanev. However, Lafferty took two of the three Penguins penalties.
At some point, the 2019 first-round pick has to show something, doesn’t he? Two shots and one hit are OK, but for a kid trying to make the roster and gifted with the top line, he disappointed.