Thoughts: Preseason Game 3 – Pens Get Their First Win, 3-2 in OT Over the Wild

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 (in separate posts) when the regular season starts.  

I will find a way to make these charts easier…but for now, click to enlarge.
*End Preseason Intro*

Penguins 3 Wild 2 (OT)

Preseason Record: 1-2

Goals
Sutter (1) (PP) from Bennett, Goc
Sundqvist (1) from Despres, Comeau
Sutter (2) from Despres

Penalties
Despres (Tripping) – Careless (stands up Fontaine at the blue line and takes him down to the ground with a trip)
Ebbett (Tripping) – Careless (trips Scandella on the forecheck behind the Wild net)
Despres (Fighting) – Inconsequential (gets a major along with Zucker)
Downie (Holding the Stick) – Unnecessary (grabs Haula’s stick on the PP trying to win a puck battle)

Notable Players

Forwards

Pre Gm 3 Forwards

Beau Bennett – With everyone anxious to see if Bennett can cut it as a top-six forward, he may have just played himself onto the 3rd line in a good way. Bennett, Sutter, and Downie formed a strong top line against the Wild and Bennett demonstrated impressive vision throughout the night. He made three impressive passes in 2-on-1 situations with varying degrees of fakes and no-looks to throw Minnesota off. One of those resulted in Sutter’s powerplay goal. Bennett also read the play well in the defensive zone, intercepting two passes and carrying them out. He was a little loose with the puck at times (two giveaways, two lost pucks), but his potential is shining right now. Johnston’s confidence in him was clear when Bennett was placed at the right point for the 5-on-3 powerplay.

Mike Johnston may have found his third line duo right here. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Mike Johnston may have found his third line duo right here. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Brandon Sutter – Sutter was the beneficiary of Bennett’s solid play, but he also took care of himself just as well. He scored two goals on four shots and played largely error-free hockey. Though I am used to marking him down for strong defensive games, he shined offensively with two takeaways and a forced turnover in the offensive zone to go along with a pass interception in the neutral zone.

Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist wasn’t quite as rabid in the offensive zone as he was in his last appearance, but he showed off the often-sought “200 foot game” with some great work in the defensive zone. He had takeaways in the neutral and defensive zones, a pass interception in the defensive zone, and he did manage to force a turnover in the offensive zone too. His tenacity all over the ice will make you forget about that guy in Nashville.

Oskar Sundqvist – Sundqvist has shown a physical edge in his game that is definitely worth some attention. He went to the front of the net to jam the game-tying goal in, drew a tripping penalty in the offensive zone, and earned a takeaway in the offensive zone by knocking his man off of the puck. There aren’t many roster spots for him to compete for, but he’ll definitely boost his stock in the long-run with games like this.

Sundqvist is trending up with his willingness to be physical. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Sundqvist is trending up with his willingness to be physical. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Kasperi Kapanen – Kapanen had a *better* game than his preseason debut, but he still has a lot of work to do. He was more assertive with a couple of takeaways and a forced turnover, but he also had two giveaways to go with it. Overall, he doesn’t look quite ready to compete in the NHL yet. The skills are there, but the speed of the game seems to be beyond him right now.

Kapanen probably shouldn't be thrust directly into the NHL yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Kapanen probably shouldn’t be thrust directly into the NHL yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Others – Zach Sill threw his body around again, recording 6 hits. I liked his previous game, where he recorded 8 hits in an effort that disrupted several clearing attempts from the offensive zone. This game was a different story though. His 6 hits were mostly for the sake of hitting in a Tanner Glass kind of way. That’s not going to be good enough to crack this roster. Jayson Megna only played 6:16, which surprised me quite a bit. I get the idea that this regime does not care for him anywhere near as much as the previous one did.

Defensemen/Goalies

Pre Gm 3 D-Goalie

Simon Despres – Despres had a bad start with a defensive zone giveaway and a tripping penalty that led to the first goal against while he was in the box. He was solid after the penalty though, assisting on two goals, notching a takeaway, and blocking a couple of shots on the penalty kill. One interesting decision that Despres made was to fight Jason Zucker. While it demonstrates a toughness that the Penguins need, there are a plethora of defensemen in this organization that are on the verge of being NHL-ready. His decision to fight and risk an injury came off as somewhat foolish with so many players vying for his spot.

Brian Dumoulin – Dumoulin looked just *okay* in his previous game and was burned on a goal against. He did not bounce back from that performance in any sort of impressive way. After being paired with Scott Harrington in the previous game, Dumoulin was put alongside Rob Scuderi and the result was far from optimal. Dumoulin had three giveaways in the defensive zone, lost the puck once in the defensive zone, and also lost it once in the offensive zone. He generally looked a little slow to react and he struggled with gap coverages at times. While a part of me wonders if the partner switch affected him, there’s no excuse for not handling the puck properly when it’s on your own stick.

Paul Martin – With Scuderi and Dumoulin paired up, Paul Martin was joined by Scott Harrington. Compared to the previous pairings, this was also not optimal. Martin generally had a quiet game, committed two giveaways, and was also partially at fault for the second goal against as he floated next to the net and didn’t skate to the open man in the slot. The pairing switch was an interesting experiment to gauge all four defensemen, but it did appear to hurt all four.

Jeff Zatkoff – If this was the regular season, I would not comment on Zatkoff’s performance at all. However, given that he’s in a battle with Greiss for the backup spot, his performance needs to be assessed. Zatkoff played well, making a couple of great quick saves from the slot and also managing a clutch blocker/pad save on the penalty kill in the third period. One thing that didn’t help his case though was a lack of quality chances and a lack of shots in general. Greiss faced the tougher workload and made tougher saves in his start. Greiss had several factors in his favor coming in: his previous experience and stats, the fact that this group signed him, and his general reputation. Comparing each of their performances so far, there is nothing to suggest that Zatkoff can avoid being the odd-man out.

Misc. Thoughts

Breakouts, Part 3 – This might be “Breakouts, Part 115” by the end of the playoffs at this rate. Watching the Penguins exit their zone has become a unique and fun experience on each rush this preseason. The team is much more willing to play around with the puck and pass it around in their defensive zone. They did cause themselves some problems though. Scuderi missed on a close pass to Dumoulin. Blake Comeau and Kasperi Kapanen both fanned on passes that turned into defensive zone pressure. There are definitely some hold-your-breath moments with this mentality. The key to all of this will be no one can even consider being lazy with puck support. If the players are willing to put the effort in to support each other, this will be a very fun system for them to run.

Learning at Different Speeds – One thing I’ve noticed in the past two games is that the players are showing vastly different levels of comfort in each zone. In the offensive zone, everyone knows what to do, how to rotate, where to go, and how to read the play. In the neutral zone, everyone knows how to back up and slow down the opposing breakout, but there is some confusion on running breakouts getting through the neutral zone. The defensive zone still requires a bit of work. Players generally seem to be slow on perimeter coverage and with sliding into gaps in coverage in the slot area. Switching the defensive pairings around likely didn’t help tonight’s case either. It will be interesting to see where the team’s defensive zone work stands going into the regular season.

Next Game: Saturday, 9/27 vs Columbus, 4pm

Thanks for reading!!