A NHL preseason game is what it is - a mishmash lineup of players of varying abilities and coaches looking to evaluate, experiment and gear-up for when the games count in October. No need to dig too deep in a game that no fans saw, save those who attended live, but here are some takeaways we have this morning after the first game is over. After all, the coaching staff is looking to these games for a large part of their evaluations for roster decisions, so the result of the game doesn’t mean anything, but a lot is on the line for individuals.
Niemi was good
Expectations for the Penguins new backup goalie are all over the map, but not many are too positive. Low confidence isn’t unfounded since Antti Niemi is 34 years old and statistically has been one of the absolute worst goalies in the league over the past two seasons. He may have taken step one to alleviate some fears though, stopping 25 of 27 shots in a scheduled 2 periods of work. After the game his new coach was impressed.
"He saw a lot of action," coach Mike Sullivan said. "He made some big saves for us. I think sometimes as a goalie coming to a new environment, maybe that's a good thing because he doesn't really have an opportunity to think about it much. He just has to go out there and trust his instincts and make the saves and that's what he did for us."
A good first impression for a guy who probably could have used it to showcase that he still can be steady and good enough for the backup role this year. Just one game, but better to have a good first game than a bad one, said captain obvious.
An aggressive Maatta is a better Maatta
Be it a tentative attitude from his injuries, or low confidence in himself or his partner to cover, or just taking a strictly defensive mindset, Olli Maatta played a pretty quiet season last year. Earlier in his NHL career he would pinch down in the offensive zone, take some chances, play the puck and contribute offensively. That wasn’t on display in the regular season and it showed with a 1 goal, 6 assist stat-line in the regular season. I liked his aggressiveness in the Ottawa series where in a four game stretch Maatta tallied two goals and an assist. His production isn’t going to project into major numbers, but he does have the ability to be the team’s 3rd best offensive defenseman in he plays like it.
Which is why, preseason or not, it’s nice to see Maatta press deep into the offensive zone, even if on a power play, see some open space near the net, fill it, get the puck and score. This type of mindset is a good one for him to have, and one he has when he’s playing his best.
Good night for the young guns
Unlike Niemi, there’s a ton of fan interest and confidence in the abilities of young forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. Neither disappointed, Sprong stuck out in good ways and ZAR scored a goal.
Daniel Sprong had a nice first period. Showed off his skill. Set up Sam Miletic at the post on the PP. Shot went wide.— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) September 19, 2017
Zach Aston-Reese finds the back of the net 46 seconds into the second period for Pittsburgh to tie the game up at 1. pic.twitter.com/Y31BIh9myH— Patrick Burns (@PatrickBurnsPSU) September 20, 2017
“This was really the first opportunity to have a fair evaluation for all those guys,” Sullivan said. “I thought Zach had a really strong game."
Refs trying to get their point across
All across the NHL it’s clear there is a very focused mandate for the refs to call every single slash that they see, and also enforce how the players lineup for the faceoffs without cheating. In theory this is fine, even if it’s painful to experience a game with 11 power plays like this one. Hopefully the refs keep the same standard consistent, it doesn’t slip and the players adjust their games to fit the new level.
McClement may have made great first impression
Jay McClement isn’t going to play power play when games matter so a deflection goal doesn’t really matter but it shows well for him anyways. One person at the game we talked to thought McClement played well all-around and better than other candidates also in this game vying for a center roster spot in Teddy Blueger and Greg McKegg. Blueger did make a nice center pass on the above mentioned Maatta goal, but McClement’s experience is going to be an advantage. If he can show he is in form and has some gas in the tank, it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s on the roster until at least a trade is made to add another center.