“It was a little longer offseason than we would have liked, so everyone is raring to go to get back to the top,” Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz said moments after the Penguins 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night at the PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins offseason was the longest since Sidney Crosby’s rookie year when the Penguins missed the playoffs. Since then, the Penguins have made the playoffs and with only a few exceptions been Stanley Cup potentials. Until last April, anyway. The Penguins have a toybox full of new toys, new lines combinations and even new power play looks.
In fact, the Penguins new power-play personnel have allowed the Penguins to do different things with the man advantage. It isn’t change for change sake. The stale air which permeated the Penguins locker room is fresh after a spring cleaning and summer bleaching.
“Yeah, definitely more (options) than the past. On the left side, we can use multiple guys, or we can use two D, or like tonight when we had (Galchenyuk) up there,” Schultz said. “I think it’s going to be good.”
Watching the Penguins hustle and scrap during a preseason game has not been seen in a while.
“I think that’s the best way to describe it — new energy. New Feel in here. A lot of speed in here and they’re creating a lot for us,” Schultz said.
Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects
Also, for the first time in a long time, the Penguins have NHL prospects; legitimate and real NHL prospects. Despite an impossible salary cap situation which blocks any of them from making the team, they are making a real impact.
Nathan Legare scored two goals in less than 30 seconds Thursday night (so, of course, a lot of the media folks incorrectly made him the focal point. But this is why you come to the hockey specialists at PHN, right?).
Legare with Sam Lafferty and Kasper Bjorkqvist had an exceptional game. Lafferty and Bjorkqvist, especially, were active throughout the game and drove the forecheck. Lafferty created turnovers and was a cut above his competition. The 24-year-old center continues to improve. The 2014 fourth-round pick from Brown University finished his first full AHL season last year and is miles ahead of his showing in Pittsburgh last September.
“We’re excited about the young guys — all of them. Lagare had a great game tonight. It’s really jumped out at all of us, his ability to shoot the puck,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “He can finish. He can really shoot it.”
One player who has drawn raves from PHN and a growing number of folks is John Marino. He had more good moments Thursday, and a couple of bobbles too. Marino is a slick skater and good puck mover. We also asked Wilkes-Barre/Scranton GM Mike Vellucci about Marino, specifically.
The Penguins may have found an NHL defenseman in waiting.
“We’ve really liked him in the games. He’s shown himself really well,” Sullivan said. “He can really skate. He’s mobile. He’s got a long stick and a good reach,” Sullivan commented on him. “What’s really impressed me about Marino’s game is his ability and how quickly he closes on people defensively. He does a great job of taking time and space.”
First round pick Sam Poulin didn’t score two goals in succession. He didn’t make any highlight-reel plays. Instead, Poulin was a workhouse on the Penguins grind line with Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist. Poulin was disruptive on the forecheck and created a few turnovers, which led to scoring chances. He broke up Columbus breakouts and showed himself to be a much better skater–more nimble–than a 6-foot-1, 208-pound player not known for good skates should be.
Poulin had blanks on the score sheet. No shots, no hits, and surprisingly not credited with a takeaway. We’ll just go ahead and respectfully disagree with those scoring decisions. Poulin is excelling because he is terrific positionally and not afraid to pressure the puck.
Young goalie Matt Murray, oh wait… Murray is young, though. But it doesn’t seem like it, does it?
Alex Galchenyuk and Evgeni Malkin are off to the races. The pair are pushing each other and complimenting each other’s creativity. The stickhandling. The aggressive rushes. It could be a special combination for the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins.