Training camp 2015 is officially underway, with 2 days of practices. What have we learned so far?
Defensive pairings may be established
Personnel is certainly subject to change quickly in the early days of the pre-season, but through 2 days the Penguins have been pretty consistent with the following pairings:
Olli Maatta- Kris Letang
Derrick Pouliot - Ben Lovejoy
Brian Dumoulin - Ian Cole
That's a good starting point, especially since it suggests that Rob Scuderi is outside of the Top 6, for now at least. Again though, caution must be used, pairings could change, or if they don't think they're getting the right performance/chemistry out of those pairings, the most obvious change would be to add Scuderi to the mix.
But, fortunately coach Mike Johnston has said that we can read into the pairings as the starting point of what they would like to use going forward
Johnston gives the green light to read into defense pairs. Remember, it was: 3-58 51-12 8-28 55-2 4-33— Jason Mackey (@Mackey_Trib) September 19, 2015
55-2 is Sergei Gonchar and Adam Clendening
4-33 is Scuderi and Reid McNeill.
Reading into that is bad news for Scuderi, and good news for Penguins fans.
Derrick Pouliot is looking impressive
There's been almost unanimous praise for the young defenseman that the Pens are counting on to take a big step forward and help out the team this season. I think Josh Yohe from DK put it best ($)
Derrick Pouliot looks good in the early stages of camp. Mike Johnston wanted to see a more impressive battle level from him in one-on-one battles. So far, so good. Just thwarted Evgeni Malkin on a rush.
Pouliot is a huge part of the Penguins youth movement on defense and they need him to be solid. So far, so good, it seems.
Mixed reviews for Sergei Plotnikov
On one hand:
Two-on-two drill, Plotnikov battling with Oleksy in front, not a good showing for the rookie. Pushed around quite a bit.— Jason Mackey (@Mackey_Trib) September 19, 2015
On another, Yohe commented:
Sergei Plotnikov is really impressive. Skates better than one might think for a big man. And plays with an edge. Really good so far.
Also it's probably important to remember Plotnikov is still a stranger in a strange land and getting his bearings straight on his new teammates and home. From this really good article about Malkin's press conference, where Malkin said:
"He doesn’t really speak English. He understands, but sometimes he doesn’t know what coach is saying," Malkin said. "I try to help. The first couple of weeks he was scared, but now he knows players and everyone is friendly to him. Now it’s easier for him."
Plotnikov, 25, played his entire career in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. He talked to Malkin before deciding to make the jump to the NHL.
"He said he was excited to come to the NHL, but didn’t know which team," Malkin recalled. "I said if you come to Pittsburgh I will help you. After a couple days he signed."
What a recruiter that Geno is!
And with the caveat that you can't read too much into early lines, Plotnikov has been skating with Nick Bonino and Beau Bennett. That could pretty easily be the main elements of a 3rd line to start the season.
The Pens Power Play could be special
A lot of time was spent today on power play and special teams work. Unsurprisingly the Pens group that had Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, David Perron, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang scored a few goals (Malkin was with the other practice group, and he practiced with Pouliot, Bennett, Bonino and Patric Hornqvist).
The Crosby-Kessel connection didn't take any time to show some instant chemistry:
Crosby and Kessel just connected for two unbelievable goals working the PP. Cannot wait to see these two in action during the season. -MC— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 19, 2015
First Crosby threaded a perfect pass through the slot (just above the crease) to Kessel for the one-timer, then Phil returned the favor -MC— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 19, 2015
For more on the PP, check out the PG for this Molinari article where so far they're saying the right things. Of course, as always it remains to be seen if they follow through on the words with actions.
"The important part is, his willingness to attack and shoot," said assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who oversees the power play. "When you do that, it opens up everything. It makes the other team defend.
"When you’re stationary and you’re passing it around, looking for that pretty play, if you go cold and you don’t score for a while, it’s a mental thing and guys start to press.
"When you shoot the puck and you attack, good things happen."