The Pittsburgh Penguins kicked off their 2013-14 NHL preseason schedule on the road in Columbus, losing a 5-4 game in overtime. As always for a game early in the preseason, both rosters were mixes of NHL caliber players, career minor league players, young prospects and old veterans trying for one more go round.
It was sloppy at times, as you'd expect from the first game of the season, and over the course of the game the Pens lost two players- Bobby Farnham and Brian Dumoulin - to injuries that forced them out of the game. Hopefully we get positive updates tomorrow on both of them.
Here's a few stand-outs in tidy bullet point fashion for this game
- Veteran Chuck Kobasew had a good game, scoring two goals from right in front of the net, including one in the third period that tied the score at 4 and eventually forced the overtime. Kobasew was in the right place at the right time, but Columbus also allowed him multiple shot attempts on the first goal, without anyone taking his body or stick. Pretty easy for a pro to take advantage of that. Still, Kobasew's on a tryout contract with the numbers against him in terms of guys ahead of him on the team. He needed to standout, and any time a player can light the lamp in a game (twice, no less), it's sure to draw the attention of the coach.
- Dustin Jeffrey also flashed, especially on the power play where he was being used on the point. Jeffrey scored a goal and got a helper on the PP and looked pretty good distributing the puck from the point. On the Penguins depth chart they could use a seond pairing PP defenseman and it looks like Jeffrey's getting the chance to again show he can add to a lineup.
- Beau Bennett started the game off with a bang, colliding into a Columbus player and then collecting a puck and throwing a nice pass over to James Neal. Neal, in the slot was all alone and made no mistakes beating Curtis McElhinney (Columbus's projected NHL backup goalie) five-hole for the first goal of the (pre)season.
- Pretty quiet game for Evgeni Malkin. The Big Guy took three minor penalties, only won 39% of his faceoffs and didn't factor into any scoring. Although at this point, no need to be worried at all, a former MVP doesn't need to show anything in a meaningless game, and Malkin did display a little chemistry with Neal on some nice touch passes and looks to be integrating with a potential new linemate in Bennett.
- Marc-Andre Fleury played the first two periods, giving up 2 goals on 12 shots. Everything Fleury does is going to be heavily scrutinized, but there's not much to read into about his performance from this game. He didn't see a lot of rubber, as the Pens did well to control possession and minimize zone-time. The two goals Fleury surrendered (a tip-in and a power-play bomb of a shot (that might have been deflected by a defender) after they got him moving laterally are goals that probably go in against just about anyone. No harm, no foul...for now.
- At the risk of putting too much weight into one performance - Jeff Zatkoff probably isn't going to push anyone for NHL minutes anytime soon. He gave up three goals on 13 shots, didn't control rebounds particularly well and didn't really look like he had any ability above minor league netminder. Not a shock or disappointment, just an observation that there's not a lot in the pipeline should Fleury or Tomas Vokoun get injured.
- Guess who lead the team in ice time? Matt Niskanen with 23:08. We've all but written him off as likely trade-bait, but he factored into the game big time tonight. We'll see if he ends up on the Penguins roster when camp breaks.
- 2012 first round pick Derrick Pouliot played a good game and made me think the word "sturdy" while watching him, which is not a word that I usually do. His skating and puck-handling made him into a top 10 pick, and while he still has a lot of work and maturation to go into becoming more consistent in his all-around game, I think he showed a lot tonight. Unless Pouliot can really show he has something to offer he's not going to come close to making the NHL regular season roster (and will be sent back to Juniors for the season) and I don't think he necessarily showed that tonight, but I still thought he played a strong game and has taken a step in the right direction since I personally saw him play last year.
- James Neal took six faceoffs all of last season and took three tonight. Just a random, weird thing after Malkin would get waived out, but still caught my eye.
The preseason keeps on grinding, the Pens will welcome the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow in Pittsburgh with a whole new lineup of players. As coach Dan Bylsma said before the game- the first two games would be used to get almost each player a game and then in the latter preseason games they would give looks to players who were earning it. Based just off tonight, we'd say of the bubble players Kobasew, Jeffrey, Andrew Ebbett (2 assists) did the most with the opportunities they had. But, in training camp, each day is a new day to make the case and becomes more important than the last.