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Takeaways from Penguins vs. Red Wings

What we learned and saw in the Penguins’ preseason game Wednesday night in Detroit.

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NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Icing another less than full-strength roster, one of the more interesting players to focus on last night in Detroit was defenseman Jack Johnson in his fist game in a Pittsburgh jersey.

As the tweet points out, Johnson (73) is barely in the screen of the smudged cell phone picture, all while playing defense that’s obviously not ideal. He was pulled away from the net while defending a player, and then made a wide, lazy circle instead of stopping and pivoting back to protect the net like the player he was initially defending did.

This was a really good scoring chance for the Red Wings, but luckily Tristan Jarry made a clutch save, and there were enough bodies back in general.

The play went the other way, and based off his position, Johnson was a part of the rush. Pittsburgh turned the puck over and suddenly it was a 3-on-1 odd-man break for Detroit, leading to two passes and a shot by Dylan Larkin, probably the best player on the ice.

For those anxious about some of Johnson’s faults that he’s displayed for a decade, they were all on display. Getting caught out of position (twice), being on the ice for multiple scoring chances against, floating around and trusting physical tools more than working within a system, and failing to recognize/adjust to trying to defend the opposition’s best line were all in his repertoire Wednesday night. If Johnson’s playing against AHL level players, this could be excused as a lax play. But it’s Larkin and Anthony Mantha out there; he was matched against the best players on the team.

For all the talk that the Penguins’ system would play to Johnson’s strengths, and the hyper-localized hope that his outlet passing would be a boost, the sum of all fears of the adventures and miscues were fully on display here.

Granted though, it’s preseason, not the playoffs. No big deal. You can probably isolate on any player in any given shift, and they might not be so sharp. It’s just something that caught my eye, since people often ask why Johnson gets such a hard time. The bigger sense of dread though is that this type of shift is exactly why Johnson’s teams end up out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored every season while he’s on the ice. If it’s a sign of things to come, it’s going to be a very long five years (or until a trade or buyout materializes). The Penguins probably need a more defensive-minded partner than Justin Schultz, who had to babysit in this sequence.

Also, to be fair, the rest of the night was pretty quiet for Johnson. He wasn’t a total bumbling, stumbling fool out there every shift. It was just a rocky sequence that stood out in a preseason game, which isn’t the biggest deal in the world.

***

Another routine summer question usually goes along the lines of, “what’s so special about Dominik Simon, what does he bring to the table anyway?” I even called him a vanilla player once or twice.

And to be fair, Simon isn’t overly fast, big, physical, blessed with a tremendous shot, or have any traits that wow an observer. Josh Yohe from The Athletic had a really insightful piece with many different Penguins players talking about why Simon is good. This is the quote that stood out the most:

“I’ll tell you why Sid likes playing with him,” Cullen explained. “He plays the game at a high speed, and he’s good at getting Sid the puck when he’s moving with speed. Sid likes that.”

Last night, Simon showed a nice flash too. It wasn’t in transition at speed, but Simon showcased another sneaky-good skill he has: being effective down low. He stole the puck from a Red Wing behind the net, skated to the corner, and made a beautiful back-handed centering pass for Derek Grant.

Simon can be a frustrating player to quantify for why he is good, but that was a nice play he made, and it’s another reminder that he’s quietly effective all around the ice.

***

I loved the game from Tristan Jarry last night. He was battling and seeing a ton of rubber, but was pretty much doing everything possible to keep his team in it.

I don’t always love Jarry’s rebound control; the second DRW goal came as the result of a routine long-range shot Jarry stopped, and in a crunch, tried to lock down and squeeze the puck. But the puck hit him and cleanly flipped out right to ex-Penguin Jussi Jokinen for a wide open net. I also noticed a couple of other times where rebound issues were apparent, but if the goalie is making all the saves, even on the follow up chances he’s leaving out there, so be it.

That’s probably an unfair critique on a guy who did make 41 of 43 stops before Michael Rasmussen was wide-open for an easy game winner in overtime, but it’s just an observation. Still, in the big picture, it was a great game for Jarry, who was the best Pittsburgh player on the ice all night.

***

I liked the outing for 2018 second-round pick Calen Addison in his first taste of NHL action. Known as a puck-moving, swift-skating defenseman who takes chances, I actually thought he blended in well — a complement to figure out and adapt to the new level of play. Addison’s vision and outlet passing is very strong on breakouts. On the power play, I thought he deferred a bit too much to playing the puck back to veteran Justin Schultz, but that’s very understandable in his first game.

Addison also made a terrific cross-ice pass to find Ryan Haggerty for the Penguins’ second goal of the game. All in all, it was an encouraging game for Addison, who didn’t look out of place.

***

Pittsburgh has an off-day today and then practice Friday before hosting Columbus in an afternoon game on Saturday. One would expect they’ll probably ice their strongest roster to date this preseason at home, perhaps even the exhibition debuts of a few star players.