Against a banged up Red Wings team comprised of hopefuls and a handful of regulars, the Pittsburgh Penguins put on their most complete effort to win their final game of the preseason. Make no mistake: It was a relief more than anything, but nonetheless, an impressive display.
The Pens are blessed with a roster that truly makes watching hockey fun. The top two lines dazzled, the power play was relentless, the penalty kill did its job, everything seemed to go well save one hiccup in the second. The lone mar on the scoreboard. Can't ask for more in a preseason game.
Looking at the five goals, the Pens simply exploited their inexperienced opponents. Matt Niskanen's beautiful pass to Jussi Jokinen who slipped behind the defensemen and went top shelf on Petr Mrazek. Great vision from Niskanen to hit open ice where Jokinen was heading. Chris Kunitz swiped the puck from an unsuspecting Xavier Ouellet of the puck, and like Jokinen, won the one-on-one battle. Also always nice to Craig Adams get some recognition on the scoresheet for redirect a laser shot from Evgeni Malkin.
And then there's the Marc-Andre Fleury hiccup that has unfortunately become a staple in his game. An odd play with Deryk Engelland and Brooks Orpik colliding which left Drew Miller alone to race the puck against Fleury. Ultimately, the blame rests on Fleury since he needs to make a quick decision whether to play the puck or wait for Miller to make the first move. And that decision needs to be right. It wasn't and Wings fans celebrated their only goal of the game with some giggles, I would guess. Shedding some positive light to the play, it was nice seeing Fleury make a snap decision and commit, even though it ultimately cost him.
And hey, could've been much worse.
A few more random thoughts:
- Fleury: This is a really tough predicament. I don't care what people say, Fleury is a very talented goalie. Regardless of the playoffs, you can't be bad and put up the string of wins he does in the season. Where Fleury loses every one of his games is between his ears. Fleury still doesn't look like he's snapped out of whatever demon it is that haunts him. We'll see how he handles himself once the season begins, but there's an internal battle he needs to figure out and soon.
- Kunitz/Sidney Crosby/Pascal Dupuis line: 6 points tonight from those three. The Wings announcers made an interesting but not probable comment: If Crosby, Kunitz, and Dupuis are the most dangerous line in hockey, then why doesn't Mike Babcock bring that line with him to Sochi for instant chemistry. I like the idea, but it's obviously not going to happen. Still excited to see what they'll do in the season.
- Dustin Jeffrey: Jeffrey has had a great preseason overall and it's tough imagining him not on the squad. There's a good chance he and Joe Vitale will swap spots on the fourth line game by game. 89% success rate in the faceoff doesn't hurt either.
- Robert Bortuzzo: Another player who's had a great preseason and better find himself at least as the 7th defenseman. The Pens could use another physical defenseman, especially since Engelland was less than impressive. However, past trends point to Engelland getting the nod. Here's to hoping.