The Pittsburgh Penguins held an open practice yesterday, with the turnout coming fairly close to filling up Sections 104-110 on the lower bowl. We headed out early yesterday and were fortunate enough to get a nice view from directly behind the net, just a few rows up. Unfortunately because of being set up on just one side of the ice we got a really good look at half the players, but less so the players at the other end of the ice, particularly the goaltenders. However, it was rather fun to get back there and see hockey live again, even if it was just a practice.
The first session was Group B. They did extensive work on drills, and in watching the 2-on-2s and 4-on-4s we were able to get a clear picture of what the D pairings are shaping up to be at this point in time. They consistently used the same D partners together, whereas the forwards changed up quite frequently. Even when they started doing the scrimmages they didn't have set forward combinations, although their were pairs that appeared together quite frequently, with alternating 3rd wingers.
Not that it has any particular bearing on the team itself, once interesting thing was that prior to the scrimmage the zambonis alternated, the first one coming on and doing a dry scrape, followed by the second one laying down the fresh sheet of ice. This is part of the new OT rules, at the AHL level at least, in that there is now a more extended break to properly prepare the ice prior to the start of OT. We also got our first look at the new wider has marks in the faceoff circles.
The 8 D were split, 4 on Team Black and 4 on Team White. From the point that they began 2-on-2s and up through the scrimmages they kept the D consistent, with one notable exception. Despite not practicing in a red jersey, Olli Maatta does appear to still be too injured to participate fully, as he was held out of the scrimmage and the final skate. So during the scrimmage Team White was forced to rotate a group of 3 D.
Team Black: Ehrhoff-Martin and McNeill-D`Agostino
Team White: Dumoulin-Ruopp and Maatta-Chorney
We didn't get to see an awful lot of Ehrhoff-Martin, being that they were usually down the other end of the ice, particularly when they started doing the defending drills, but we know they are both talented veterans and word is Martin quite enjoys the pairing. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of McNeill and D`Agostino though, so not quite sure how they are progressing, particularly since they fly under the radar amongst the press types who have been in Camp all weekend. However, we got a really good look at Team White, and I must say Brian Dumoulin looks as if he is more than ready for the NHL, he was one of the best players out there yesterday. Maatta you could tell in watching him that he was still playing through an injury, he just looked like he was a step behind on most of the drills and was having trouble defending against the rush. But he'll be back to his old self at some point.
Group B's 3 goalies featured Marc-Andre Fleury as the full time goalie for Team Black while Matthew Murray and Tristan Jarry rotated in net for Team White. Being directly behind them we got to see a lot of Murray and Jarry, and while they did give up some unfortunate goals, neither of them were bad overall, even making some really nice saves from time to time. Both are young and have a lot of work to do before they are ready for the NHL, but you can certainly see the potential there.
Up front they shifted around the forward combos quite frequently, partly because they weren't using 3 forwards together for much of the practice as they focused on drills, but even in the scrimmages they switched things up. Both teams had 7 forwards, so by necessity they were forced to switch up lines in order to make sure everybody got a chance.
On our side's Team White the one combo that seemed to stick together was Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett. Their 3rd winger changed up from time to time, sometimes it was Downie and other times it was Leblond, but the coaching staff really seems to like the chemistry that Sutter and Bennett display together. And being that Leblond is not making the NHL roster coupled with the fact that Johnston said he wants a big physical guy as their 3rd, chances are the plan is to keep Downie with them. Speaking of Leblond, I read some people say he was te worst player on the ice and should have been cut already, while others said he was one of the most active players on the ice and was drilling people despite the fact that he was holding back to make sure he wasn't going to hurt anybody. He is certainly offensively incapable, but I must admit he looked pretty decent in regards to his physical and defensive play. Of course that doesn't mean he has any place on an NHL roster though.
The other forwards on Team White were Sill, Archibald, and Wilson. However, there was no real rhyme or reason to their pairings, as one shift Wilson and Archibald are together with somebody like Leblond, while another it is Sill and Wilson with somebody like Leblond, and yet another time you see the 3 of them skating together. It was quite hard to follow since their was no real consistency by the time you got all the way down to their place in the lineup.
Team Black had even less consistency... Dea was out on the ice a lot, and actually looking pretty decent for a rookie, and he was usually paired with either one or both of Zlobin or Hornqvist, but unfortunately it was never consistently one or the other, and at times they added in Carcillo or Uher with one of them. That left Ebbett and Farnham rotating in with the mix for their 2nd line, but not really a consistent breakdown that we could point out lines.
Amongst the forwards the one that stood out most was Bennett, he had a really good session yesterday, and despite the fact that he said his wrist isn't quite 100% yet you can barely notice any loss in talent. Sutter looked better than he has in years past, and I was also impressed with Downie, not only being able to muscle other players off the puck, but also showing he still has some offensive skill left in the tank. And of course Hornqvist is talented, although with the injuries we've already sustained he hasn't been skating with the best linemates available. The rest of the guys, I can't say there was anybody particularly bad, but also nobody really jumped out with a wow factor.
The one thing we noticed when we sat down was that Sidney Crosby was added to the roster after his surprise appearance on Friday. However, after the brief intermission for the zamboni to redo the ice we learned that Crosby was opting to sit out practice, as he is still recovering from his leg injury. Like the first group, it was hard to pinpoint any specific line combinations, as they switched it up quite frequently, but the D pairs were always consistent.
Team Black: Scuderi-Letang and Harrington-Samuelsson
Team White: Despres-Bortuzzo and Boak-Seymour
There wasn't really anything that stood out as interesting amongst the D pairs, other than the fact that Scott Harrington reminds me more and more of Paul Martin as he gets more experience. He wasn't the most effective defender on the ice, but boy did he make up for that with his offensive talents. It is a really under-appreciated aspect of his game, as most people assume he is just a stay-at-home defensive D, forgetting that he was the Baby Pens 2nd highest scoring D last season or the fact that he ran the PP back in London.
The 3 goalies rotated, the primary goalie for Team Black was Jeff Zatkoff while the primary goalie for Team White was Thomas Greiss. While he may have been wearing a white jersey, Eric Hartzell actually swapped back and forth, coming in as relief for both Zatkoff and Greiss. So far I can't really say I noticed anything about them that would give either a leg up, so that roster battle could very well go right down to the wire.
Up front there was the same inconsistency we came to expect from these early practices, everybody moving around as they try to figure out who works with whom. This was complicated by the fact that both Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz were held out of the scrimmage as a precautionary measure, so the remaining forwards on Team Black had to shift around even more than they were used to. However, in the drills I was exceptionally impressed by Dupuis, it looked as if he was back without having lost a step due to his injury last year.
Goc and Comeau did seem to stick together quite frequently, which makes sense as that is one of the pairings we anticipate will be used when the puck drops at the start of the season. And Comeau was one of the best forwards in the scrimmage, throwing his weight around and landing some heavy checks while also showing he still has the ability to score. Bryan Rust also had a pretty solid performance, as did Spaling, both guys who have a reputation for being less skilled offensively than what they showed yesterday. Kasperi Kapanen was the final member of Team Black, and he was certainly showing his age and inexperience out there. The underlying talent is quite evident, but it was quite obvious that he isn't on the same level as the NHL calibre players. Of course it was just the 2nd day of Camp, he could improve by the end, and if not he has the potential to be something special another year or two down the road.
Team White was a bit less impressive, or at least there wasn't anything in particular I noticed that jumped out. I have read that Jayson Megna was good, so perhaps those up in press row who had a better view of the entire ice saw things that we weren't privy to down in our corner. Craig Adams appears to still be fighting for his spot still, as he was usually skating with guys not usually associated with having much chance of making the NHL. Team White featured Payerl, Sundqvist, Kostopoulos, Kuhnhackl, Marcantuoni, and Sheary. They all had their moments, but nothing overly spectacular.
Practice for Day 3 started whilst I was typing up my recap of yesterday's practice. Supposedly the intention today is to work on special teams, although Crosby and Kunitz were both held out of practice today for precautionary reasons. We can post other notes and updates in the comments as a live thread.