The Penguins held their Black & Gold Game Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center, a free to the public intrasquad scrimmage meant to simulate game conditions in lieu of a full training camp and preseason.
The contest ran a full three periods, including a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime and shootout.
The scrimmage gave a decent look at some potential line combinations as well as the new-look power play, the game ending in a 5-4 shootout victory for Team Black.
Fifteen players were called up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and ECHL Wheeling to fill out the scrimmage rosters, which primarily pitted the Pens' top-two lines and Marc-Andre Fleury (Team White) against Tomas Vokoun, the third and fourth lines and the team's top six defensemen (Team Black).
Some thoughts from the scrimmage:
The young defensemen got worked, repeatedly. Simon Despres in particular had a rough night, victimized several times by Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter, once resulting in a shorthanded goal against. Despres was paired up with Kris Letang and Joe Morrow throughout most of the night, but never seemed to get comfortable. Youngsters Morrow and Brian Dumoulin were equally up-and-down in their play. Of the team's prospect defensemen, Morrow may have had the best night, again displaying uncanny calm in his own zone, even when pressured. Given their experience (and waiver ineligibility), Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo seem the best bets to make the Pens roster, as the team has hinted at carrying eight defensemen in the past.
Brandon Sutter came to play. He finished with a goal and two assists in addition to burying a shot behind Vokoun in the shootout. He seemed to skate as fast as anyone on the ice Wednesday, including Evgeni Malkin. Each of the three points he had a hand in came from a rush towards the net, including a power play marker in which he played the Tomas Holmstrom role and buried a loose puck from just outside the crease. Sutter's defensive abilities are well established, but he seemed to click with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy immediately. The third line might be the most stable line the Penguins have in the shortened season.
Beau Bennett, too, came to play. Bennett was very impressive in the game, perhaps the second-most physical forward of the night behind Sutter. The physicality was a bit of a surprise, as Bennett has always been known as a handsy skill player rather than a crease-crashing Bylsma prototype. Bennett took one or two shifts with Malkin and James Neal and scored a short-side power play goal against Fleury in the first, and at the very least gave the coaching staff something to think about before Saturday.
It's gotten plenty of press already, but a six-day training camp is no time to tinker with a new power play. Even though the unit came up with a goal against Fleury, the formation didn't seem to have great success. Also, is having an offense-first forward on one of the points really the best way to head into a Saturday date with Philadelphia, a team which scored shorthanded goals at will last April?
Some final, quick thoughts from the scrimmage.
- Evgeni Malkin is going to storm out of the gates. Malkin moved like a player who's been on the ice for the last four months. My pick for early-short-season scoring leader, outpacing even Crosby.
- Didn't read too much into the goaltending or defense in last night's scrimmage, as I've yet to take in a preseason game or training camp exercise in which defense and physicality were exerted in game-like levels. Still going to be the likely weakness of this roster.
- Eric Tangradi took regular shifts with Malkin and Neal, and didn't impress. If he struggles, Bennett or even Dustin Jeffrey shouldn't have to wait very long for a promotion.
- Malkin and Crosby are both healthy for the first time since 2010. Let's see what Bylsma can do with them.