Both the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings dressed the majority of their star players for Monday’s preseason game at CONSOL Energy Center.
Pittsburgh had the line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis and top-four defensemen Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik among others, while Detroit brought players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Justin Abdelkader and starting goalie Jimmy Howard.
But while there were certainly a lot of established NHLers on the ice, it was Detroit’s lesser-known players who helped them win the game. Defenseman Adam Almquist scored twice, forward Tomas Tatar scored once and Datsyuk rounded out the scoring for the Red Wings in a 4-1 victory over the Penguins. Brandon Sutter had Pittsburgh’s only goal.
* The Penguins struggled in this game as their execution was lacking. Passes kept hitting the skates and sticks of opposing players and becoming turnovers, their positional play was off and they struggled to find their legs, especially early. Lines and D-pairings that have played together for a long time looked discombobulated. But hey, that’s why they play these exhibition games, right? To get back into game shape and iron out all those wrinkles. So while it wasn’t the greatest showing, it’s nothing to worry about. But the Penguins would like to rectify their shortcomings sooner rather than later.
“Tonight definitely wasn’t the game we wanted to start with,” Sutter said. “I know half the guys that are here didn’t play last night, so I think we’ve got to make sure we’re a little sharper next game and just a better overall effort. I think we just got outworked and that can’t happen, so we’ve got to get those habits now and can’t wait for another two weeks to find them.
* One bright spot was the power play. Though the Penguins didn’t convert any of their five chances, their puck movement on the man-advantage – especially by the first unit of Sidney Crosby, Jussi Jokinen, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin and Kris Letang – was textbook. I especially liked the way Jokinen would sneakily drift to the open areas unbeknownst to Detroit’s PKers, and it looks like Crosby did, too. The captain kept finding Jokinen for one-timer opportunities and they created a few nice scoring chances that way. Jokinen has proven he can complement star players throughout his career, and he did that with Crosby.
* The Penguins got a lot of practice on special teams in this game. In addition to five power plays, they also had four kills – including a 3-on-5 disadvantage for almost two minutes. Veteran PKer Craig Adams stayed out that entire time and beasted it like he does. The Pens are going to be counting on him a lot to be the anchor, especially with Matt Cooke gone. The Red Wings did score twice on the man-advantage, but they were tough goals as Tomas Vokoun was screened on both shots from the point.
* Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how the potential Penguins third line of Matt D’Agostini, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen would look as D’Agostini missed the game with his wife in labor. Chris Conner moved up to fill the spot on that line, and he and Sutter teamed up for the only goal. Conner impressed the coaching staff with the way he played on Monday, and coach Dan Bylsma said he earned another look in another game because of his performance.
“There are people in Games 1 and 2 that showed with their opportunity and earned another game in the next two games that we have,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Chris Conner was one of those guys, Chuck Kobasew is a guy that really stepped forward with his opportunity, Dustin Jeffrey had a very good game (Sunday vs. Columbus) in that game.”
* But I would say the best player on the ice for Pittsburgh tonight was Sutter. He told me at the start of training camp that his comfort level with the organization is “night and day” compared to last season, his first as a Penguin. And it showed on the ice. Granted, it was Sutter’s first real game action in a few months, but he was flying out there and looked confident. The shot he beat Howard with on his goal was an absolute snipe. Looking forward to seeing more of that from season.
* Bylsma said the Penguins will be making cuts on Tuesday morning. They had 55 players divided into three groups the first few days of training camp, but will go down to two practice groups moving forward.