The Penguins topped the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, where the famous movie Slapshot was filmed. Johnstown was named “Kraft Hockeyville USA,” and had the honors of hosting tonight’s game as well as recieving $150,000 of arena upgrades. What a special night it was. The Hanson brothers made many appearances throughout the broadcast, and they even gave the Penguins a pregame speech, which can be watched here:
The Hornqvist, Malkin, Plotnikov line decided to pay tribute by taking a picture with the brothers, glasses and all, which can be seen above. The game did see some hard hits and some scrappy confrontations, but nothing quite representative of what the Hanson brothers would have done had they been out on the ice tonight. The Lightning put out an extremely strong lineup, playing essentially their opening night roster. The Penguins did play some prominent guys, such as Malkin, Maatta, Hornqvist, and Cole, but by no means did they play an “opening night roster.” They did not play Crosby, Kessel, Letang, Pouliot, or Perron just to name a few. Crosby could have played in this game, and many expected he would, but Mike Johnston, the Penguins head coach, made the decision to hold him out of this game, and said it was entirely his own decision. This 4-2 victory for the Penguins, despite the fact that this is preseason hockey, was a solid one, especially after dropping 3 straight preseason match-ups previous to this game. Here are some of my impressions from tonight:
- PK comes up big – the Penguins penalty kill has not looked very good throughout the preseason, but oh boy did they fix something tonight. They killed off all of Tampa Bay’s 6 power play chances, that included a top PP unit of Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, and Tyler Johnson. Although 1 game is not enough to prove that their PK is “unstoppable,” it shows that they have the potential to kill penalties…and against a respectable power play, too. Also, note that the Penguins have not been afraid to use the likes of Crosby and Malkin to kill penalties. Could this put the other team on their heels a bit? We will have to find out. If the Penguins continue this pattern, don’t be surprised to see a few more shorthanded goals this year.
- Murray plays strong again – Matt Murray is showing the Penguins organization that he can play. He was a large reason the Penguins PK went 6-6 tonight, and made some tremendous saves throughout the game. Considering that Murray is only 21, he will more than likely start in the AHL, because the organization does not want him playing a minimum amount of games backing up Marc-Andre Fleury. However, if Fleury or the likely backup Zatkoff get hurt throughout the season, don’t be surprised to see Murray in the net for the Pittsburgh Penguins this year.
- The new guys come through – Plotnikov and Clendening each scored their first in a Penguins uniform tonight. Plotnikov’s goal came 14 seconds into the game when he simply drove hard to the net and had a puck bounce right to his stick. More on him later. Clendening’s came from behind the goal line, banking off of the Tampa Bay goalie and into the back of the net to extend the Pens lead to 4-2. But hey, a goal is a goal, and they both count the same on the stat sheet. Clendening has looked very sharp in the games he has played in, and definitely has a chance to crack to roster, especially considering he would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Wilkes-Barre.
- Plotnikov looks good – Sergei Plotnikov is showing the Penguins that he can play in the NHL. The 25-year-old reminds me a lot of Patric Hornqvist: he drives to the front of the net, he is a gritty player, and he is not afraid to use his body to hit, and he showcased that tonight. Plotnikov will be in the lineup on October 8th against the Stars, but many wonder whether it will be him or Perron who plays with Malkin. I imagine that Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel is a lock for the first line, and Hornqvist will definitely play with Malkin. Based on tonight’s game, Plotnikov is making an argument for himself to play on that second line, which combined for 6 points tonight. This line looked good all game long and looked like they were really developing chemistry. Even if Plotnikov doesn’t start on this line at the beginning of the season, expect him to see him on the second line with Geno at some point.
- Malkin was…well…vintage Malkin – Geno shined tonight, as he should. He was flying, pouncing on lose pucks, speeding by the Tampa Bay defense, and even topping it off with a goal that proved to be the game-winner. Malkin led the team in goals last year with 28, but he knows he can do more. He wants to do more. He wants another Stanley Cup. If he can play like he did tonight, he should improve from last season now that he is playing with Hornqvist and Perron/Plotnikov, espeically coming off of a season where his wingers were Blake Comeau and [insert minor league player here]
- Cole and Dumoulin meshing well – Almost everyone that follows the Penguins knew Ian Cole was going to be the Penguins’ #3 defenseman going into the year, but I don’t think many thought Dumoulin would be the guy to play with him. Although I have no evidence to prove it, I was saying that this would be the Penguins second pair of defense for at least a month. I think their games complement each other nicely, and they both looked good playing with each other tonight, and have been used a lot during training camp. I would not be surprised if this was the Penguins 2nd line of defense to start the year behind Letang and Maatta, and I do not think it’s a bad one. I would also guess that the 3rd line of defense will be Lovejoy and Pouliot, but Pouliot is having a rough preseason, so don’t be surprised to see Gonchar, Scuderi, or even Clendening paired with Lovejoy on October 8th in Dallas.
The Penguins play the 3rd game of a back-to-back-to-back tomorrow against the Red Wings. Crosby and Kessel, who have had instant chemistry so far this preseason, will be back in action. Other notables in action include David Perron, Derrick Pouliot, Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Fleury, and young rookie Daniel Sprong. Daniel Sprong, the Penguins first overall pick in this year’s draft (2nd round), has looked terrific this preseason. He very well may get a 9 game tryout by the start of the season if he can keep up his offensive fire power tomorrow in Detroit. He may even get the chance to play with Crosby and Kessel. Only time will tell what happens with Sprong, as well as the rest of the potential players that have a chance to play in the opener in Dallas on October 8th.