Thoughts: Preseason Game 1 – Pens Fall to Red Wings, 2-1

By: Meesh Shanmugam

*Preseason Intro*
Welcome back everyone! With a new season, new coach, new GM, and new hope (at least temporarily), I’ll be working on some new formats for the postgame thoughts before the regular season arrives. Ideas and suggestions are very much encouraged; let me know what you want to see and read about! Goal assessments and descriptions will return when the regular season starts. They will be in separate posts for the sake of length (and in case you don’t care). Also, there will be more pictures/gifs/videos once the regular season starts because no one seems to care to do anything creative with the preseason.  

*End Preseason Intro*

Red Wings 2  Penguins 1

No, he doesn't coach the Penguins yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

No, he doesn’t coach the Penguins yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Bennett (1) from Chorney, Sutter

Despres (Interference) – Unnecessary (Hit from behind away from puck)
Bennett (High-Sticking, double minor) – Careless (Missed stick lift)
Chorney (Cross-Checking) – Unnecessary (Hit from behind in front of the net)
Bortuzzo (Roughing) – Stupid (Retaliation after getting knocked over)
Farnham (Charging) – Unnecessary (Took several strides to make a hit)
Bortuzzo (Cross-checking) – Inconsequential (Tatar also received 2 mins)

Notable Players


Pre Gm 1 Forwards

Beau Bennett – Bennett showed a nice mix of skill (goal), carelessness (high-sticking penalty), and creative stupidity (offensive zone turnovers) in his first game under new coach Mike Johnston. In several articles over the past two days, Bennett has discussed his thoughts on the coaching change and he hasn’t exactly hid his excitement over the changes. He’s known as a very creative player with the puck, so the new regime should fit him well. However, that wasn’t completely on display against Detroit. He often used his creativity to skate directly into Detroit’s defense and turn the puck over (4 offensive zone turnovers). Despite that, he did score the only goal for the Penguins and might have the most upside of the forwards in the system change.

Just be careful with the wrists! (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

$83 million has also been spent on Beau’s wrists. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Blake Comeau – Comeau’s first preseason game as a Penguin was a mixed bag, with some ugly looking defensive zone work but promising forechecks. He was at fault on the first goal against with a bad turnover when he didn’t clear the puck on the penalty kill and he appeared to struggle with decisions exiting the zone at times. Once the puck was out of the defensive zone though, Comeau looked like a competent player who can throw his body and create a little chaos in the offensive zone.

Nick Spaling – I thought Spaling had a strong debut as he started off facing Datsyuk and didn’t shy away from the matchup whatsoever at even strength. He looked like a player with above average hockey sense and reminded me of Sutter in terms of just knowing where to be at the right times.

Patric Hornqvist – Aside from scoring, Hornqvist showed off everything that’s great about his game against Detroit. With a team-leading seven shots, he demonstrated he can put the puck on net from anywhere on the ice and in any situation. One aspect of his game that is extremely impressive is his footwork around the crease and his ability to pivot with or around the puck. He was extremely efficient in screening the goalie and then making quick turns to play the puck or man as necessary. He was also a terror in the offensive zone with quick bursts to the corners that disrupted a few clears by the Red Wings. Kunitz plays in front of the net because he’s willing to take a beating and be a pest. Hornqvist is actually skilled at it.

Others – Anton Zlobin set up a good screen for Bennett’s goal and has a vicious wrist shot that we hopefully get to see more of. Jean-Sebastian Dea showed flashes of promise but also looked a bit overzealous and lost at times. Oskar Sundqvist showed potential and looked good in the neutral zone, but there were a couple of times where he was more interested in a player battle than getting loose pucks.


Pre Gm 1 Defensemen

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi will have a spotlight on him for the foreseeable future and he handled it fine in his first preseason game. He had a couple of deep pinches into the offensive zone that allowed the Penguins to keep possession and played average overall (which is an improvement). He did make a couple of off-target passes and there is a good chance that his lack of puck skills comes to the forefront in this system, but preseason game 1 was good enough at least.

Paul Martin – Martin picked up where he left off last year and dominated the defensive zone, breaking up six plays while being paired with Scuderi. It will be interesting to see how the puck movement works with this pairing as Martin passed the puck back to Scuderi a couple of times and that can be a troubling thing.

Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo – This pair was quite physical and aggressive all night, but it was to a fault. Despres took a bad interference penalty in the defensive zone that led to the first Red Wings goal. Overall, he was average. I’m hoping to see more work with the puck for him this preseason. Bortuzzo also crossed the line a bit, taking a retaliatory penalty and getting away with a potential boarding penalty (I thought it was clear-cut boarding). He also missed a chance to prevent a zone entry because he tried to step up and hit a man instead of playing a puck that was errantly passed directly to him by the Red Wings (but he missed it looking for the hit). The physical aspect of both of their games will be important, but they each need to pick their spots better.

Taylor Chorney – Chorney, wearing Orpik’s old 44, assisted on the Penguins goal and also took a bad penalty in the defensive zone. He certainly drew some attention with a couple of forced turnovers, but the Penguins are too deep at defense for him to deserve too much attention.

Pre Gm 1 Goalies

Misc. Thoughts

Hopefully someone tells the new boss that his real roster is better than this. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hopefully someone tells the new boss that his real roster is better than this. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Breakouts – The breakouts were certainly interesting to watch as the game went on. There was a lot more read-and-react going on and much more movement closer to the puck carrier to create lanes and speed. This will be both wonderful and awful at times. It was concerning to watch Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi passing the puck back and forth in the defensive zone given the differences in their abilities with the puck. There was one mix up in the defensive zone between Chorney and McNeill where they didn’t know what each other was going to do leaving the zone. Overall though, the Penguins will be harder to read exiting the zone and it certainly looked that way in the first preseason game. It should be noted that new lines, new pairings, and a new system will lead to plenty of confusion and mistakes early, so we’ll just have to just wait and see how things come together with a final roster (that goes for all notes for that matter).

Penalty Kill – The main thing I was looking for on the penalty kill was how the man in front of Fleury was being treated. Some good news: the defensemen were generally more aggressive with the crease guy. Some bad news: since their level of aggressiveness was previously zero, it is not a very large increase. Both Despres and Scuderi jostled with guys in front of Fleury at times and left the man alone completely at other times. There wasn’t necessarily a method to it that I noticed except for maybe their comfort level with how well other guys on the powerplay were covered. As for two powerplay goals allowed, the first one was a bad turnover by Comeau and the second one was just an awkward set of bad bounces in front of the net.

Rebound Mentality – The intended mentality in front of the crease this year is to tie up the opponent and then clear the puck. It’s an interesting method to watch and will probably lead to several minor heart attacks for fans as loose pucks bounce around in front but no one on either team can play them. This strategy will depend on two factors: support from loose forwards and defensemen in the area, and also patience from the goalie as he sees awkward bounces. I think this will be an interesting challenge for Fleury and his sometimes overly-aggressive nature.

Offensive Zone – The puck support in the offensive zone was impressive as the Penguins consistently rotated in different directions as a complete unit to win puck battles, force turnovers, and get loose pucks. There were very few instances where a player couldn’t at least compete in a race to the puck with support covering him due to the overall movement. It also allowed the defensemen to commit to some pretty deep pinches without an excessive amount of risk. The constant movement also created openings for passing lanes and should benefit the higher skilled forwards significantly.

Next Game: Tuesday, 9/23 @ Columbus, 7pm

Thanks for reading!!