This will mark the NHL preseason debut of No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, and it will be very interesting to watch him make his first action against the Penguins. One figures he could be playing with Rasmus Ristolainen or Marco Scandella a lot this season, and tonight he could get a taste there. That’s three top-four NHL-caliber defensemen, which is a very strong showing. Jake McCabe will be in the mix too.
In net, summer free agent addition Carter Hutton signed a three-year deal worth $2.75 million per season. It’s yet to be seen which goalie plays tonight, but Hutton is the new No. 1 guy in Buffalo come regular season time.
Up front, reports from Buffalo indicate their first line for much of training camp has been Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Kyle Okposo, and all three are in the lineup for this game. A potential second line on opening night could include Casey Mittelstadt and Jason Pominville, and they’re both playing tonight too.
About the only notable the Sabres have available who isn’t playing is a former Penguin — no Conor Sheary in the lineup tonight for Buffalo.
That’s a far different cry from the lineup the Penguins will be bringing tonight, with really just Jake Guentzel and Olli Maatta as players dressing tonight guaranteed to be in the NHL’s opening night lineup (though to be sure Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese, and Dominik Simon will be in the mix and some/most/all could even make it).
This is nothing new or noteworthy, training camp is less than a week old and there’s no real reason to have the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel type players start “gearing up” so soon. It’s a nice perk of being a veteran to get out of a pre-season road trip and get a night off to stay at home.
Conversely, it also makes sense for Buffalo to ice a strong preseason roster to show off at home, especially since they just sent a “B team” quality squad to Columbus for a game of their own last night.
Given the talent discrepancy, it could be an uphill battle for the Penguins tonight. However, while they don’t have standouts, they’re pretty deep down the middle tonight with Derek Grant, Jordy Bellerive, J.S. Dea, and Teddy Blueger. Once you get past Eichel, the bottom line matchups should be about even and interesting to watch unfold.
Preview from the other side
Check out Die By the Blade for their take and perspective on the game preview. Overall they seem excited for the first home game of the season and the first chance to see Dahlin and Skinner in Sabres jerseys. Can’t blame them for that!
How to Watch/Listen:
As always, NHL preseason games are a mixed bag of news on how to actually view it.
1 day until preseason hockey.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 17, 2018
Although there will be no live broadcast of tomorrow's game, @NHLNetwork will re-air the contest twice on Wednesday, September 19 - at 1:00AM and then again at 12:00PM.
Preseason details: https://t.co/ZPZdYGUTqZ pic.twitter.com/xvmUFU5VWK
It may be for the best that this game isn’t going to be viewed live. However, in better news, the NHL Network will be carrying tomorrow night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings live at 7:30 p.m., so that’s a good sign.
You can listen to tonight’s game in Buffalo on 105.9 The X locally in Pittsburgh (or through the live stream of their website), through the Pens app, or wherever’s most convenient.
The Road Ahead
Tonight kicks off the super short 11-day preseason schedule for the Penguins that will see them play one home and one away game against the most geographically convenient mid-west/Great Lakes teams in the league.
The Penguins have a quick turnaround with the aforementioned game in Detroit tomorrow. The official lineup for that game hasn’t been released as of press time. It probably figures to reason there will be some changes, but don’t count on seeing a lot of the big guns making that road trip either.
Things to Keep an Eye On
Obviously the result in these games doesn’t matter, but the performances of individuals definitely does. One strong or weak performance alone isn’t going to seal anyone’s fate, but preseason is the most important evaluation time of the year for young players looking to establish themselves.
Therefore, the most interesting storylines tonight:
Goalie: Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith — who gets the first crack at it tonight, and how do they look? It’s difficult to judge goalie performance and exhibition games don’t always paint a true picture of the complete body of work. However, the breakup in the work matters and seeing which goalie starts might carry the most importance as to which goalie the coaches like at the moment to be the NHL backup. Early reports have DeSmith slightly ahead of Jarry, which certainly stays true to the trend between those two.
Defense: Juuso Riikola has by all accounts had an impressive first week of training camp. How does he build on that in his first taste of NHL game action?
Forwards: Limited skill should mean a ton of ice time for Daniel Sprong. Who among he, Aston-Reese, and Simon stand out the most in this opportunity? Good chance for a youngster to stand out and start making a name for himself this pre-season and stay in the lineup for more games to come. We’ve seen this happen in years’ past, specifically last year a long look given to Blueger and Bellerive - two players also playing tonight.
Penguins’ hockey is back (sort of). Here’s to an enjoyable and healthy preseason!
(Note: since there is no TV feed and this is a preseason game, there will not be a game thread tonight. But feel free to use the comments here to discuss the game if you’re listening!)