They were in midseason form. The stickhandling. The speed. And they drove defensemen crazy. Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins Day 2 intrasquad scrimmage. If this is how motivated they are when the games don’t count, it isn’t hard to image both players having eye-popping statistics this season.
Yes, they were that good. And Pittsburgh Penguins may have something real.
Change is not always a bad thing. The Penguins probably held onto Phil Kessel one season too many but the winds of change have renewed some spirits and determination. Malkin’s offseason roller coaster of trade rumors and renewed commitment have been well documented, even before published reports last week. But he also said the right things last season.
Galchenyuk is another player for whom change was needed. The talented player didn’t fully live up to Arizona coach Rick Tocchet’s expectations. After an explosive February with Jordan Weal, Galchenyuk’s numbers again dipped in March and he was relegated to third-line duty.
Saturday morning, the pair were spectacular. Each held onto the puck, stickhandled around defenders, made smart decisions to advance the play, and created offense. They did it against the defensive pairing of Marcus Pettersson-Justin Schultz with Nick Bjugstad at center.
“I’ve got to get used to playing with him. He’s so creative,” Galchenyuk told PHN. “He skates well and you’ve got to give him the puck. It’s a game we have to play–to be creative to create chances.”
Assistant coach Sergei Gonchar was also very prevalent. In addition to working over prospect defenseman Michael Kim in battle drills, Gonchar was hustling around the locker room with tips, pointers, tricks and just good conversation. He sat between Malkin and Galchenyuk for several minutes. Gonchar was Malkin’s landlord once upon a time when the young Russian was first on his own.
Glachenyuk, despite being born in Milwaukee, WI also has some Russian heritage. The click has been both immediate and impressive.
Here’s a quick picture of Gonchar cross-checking Kim, who must have been a little surprised at Gonchar’s ferocity.
The Pittsburgh Penguins depth is noticeably better than last year. It was much more difficult to separate the NHL players from the AHL players than recent camps. Only a handful of players did not look ready for the speed of the game. Unfortunately, one of those players was the Providence College rookie Kasper Bjorkqvist. He missed the Prospects Challenge last weekend and even the rookie camp in June with an injury, so perhaps he is not yet 100%. He will have to adjust quickly.
Since I’m “the Jack Johnson guy,” I’ll pass along a quick story. A fellow writer mentioned Johnson made a few strong plays in the Day 1 scrimmage and joked about the Twitter reaction if such content were Tweeted. The social media mob, eh?
Teddy Blueger and Bryan Rust were paired Saturday. Wow were they fast. It seemed each made the other faster. Ideally, a player who makes $3.5 million is not a fourth-liner, but if that’s the Penguins lineup, it will be an exciting show.
Schultz-Pettersson were not so good against Tanev-Malkin-Galchenyuk. Let me put it on record, the Penguins are not as good or balanced with Pettersson-Schultz, Johnson-Erik Gulbranson as they are with the pairings from last season when Pettersson was with Gudbranson and Johnson with Schultz.
Dominik Simon was on a line with Nathan Legare and Kenny Aggozino. Since the Penguins are concentrating on setting their lines early, that isn’t a good sign for Simon.
Jon Lizotte doesn’t have a realistic chance of making the NHL roster, but he’s a hustler. Lizotte has good speed, is aggressive and fearless. The 24-year-old defenseman who played four years at St. Cloud State was invited to camp after a good Prospects Challenge. He will add to the blue line in WBS. And…who knows. I enjoyed watching him Saturday.
While Malkin and Galchenyuk were “puttin’ on the ritz,” Tanev was…present. One shouldn’t downplay him but he could have been more involved, too. We’ll see if he clicks with the line or is a replaceable cog. Bank on the latter.
Brian Dumoulin was paired with Calen Addison, who looks better and better. He’ll go back to Lethbridge this year, most likely, but he may have a shot in the NHL. I was skeptical last year. His growth in handling the pace, physicality and reading the play has grown.