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Pens/Sabres Preseason Thoughts: “Same ol shit”, Phil Kessel keeps scoring

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The Pens looked really good in their tune up against Buffalo last night, and no one looked better than Phil the Thrill

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres basically brought their B-team to Pittsburgh last night, with ten players having 50 games or less of career NHL experience. Most of their stars had the night off.

The Penguins, in their final home preseason tune up, trotted out their entire healthy NHL roster.

Results then, were to be expected. Pittsburgh comfortably skated away with a 5-1 win, as well they should have. That’s not really important in the big scheme of things, but here are the takeaways that are:

  • Coach Mike Sullivan called the Dominik Simon - Derick Brassard - Bryan Rust line the team’s best from last Sunday’s game. They built on that with another very strong effort last night. Rust was especially noticeable and impactful being on the ice for 20 5v5 Corsi events for to only 3 against (source: Natural Stat Trick), which is almost unbelievably good. Simon (18-3) and Brassard (18-5) weren’t far behind. Though Sullivan is still technically in experimental mode, there’s little reason to mess with something working and many are expecting this will be the season’s opening 3rd line.
  • Phil Kessel scored two goals last night, both on sick wrist shots. No need to worry about whether #81 is ready or not for the season, the answer popped out quicker than the puck from the net here
  • Kris Letang had a turnover that created the only goal against. He would shortly thereafter get that mistake back by scoring a goal of his own. He also demonstrated a nice defensive play clearing the puck out from the crease. Mostly good but a little bad, typical Letang.
  • Matt Murray stopped 20/21 in the game, good numbers but he wasn’t tested much either. He is up to 51 saves on 55 shots in the preseason (.927%) which is very good. Seems like he is tracking the puck well and playing a positionally solid game and looks ready for the regular season to begin.
  • With Justin Schultz nursing a hand injury that the Pens don’t believe to be serious, newcomer Juuso Riikola got in the lineup again for his 5th preseason game. And again he walked out of the game with his stock higher than it was before with a team-high six hits (including a massive hip check on Jason Pominville) and praise for his physicality and defensive game. Every chance he gets, Riikola hasn’t failed to impress.
  • Another “mixed bag” game for Daniel Sprong now on the 4th line with a couple of turnovers, and 2 shots on goal in 12:57 played. Questions and doubts have to linger as to what he brings a 4th line and if the team is actually going to play him there in the regular season. In this preseason, Sprong probably needed to stand out but he has no goals, 1 assist and just 7 shots on goal in 4 games. Earlier in camp the coaching staff said they “wanted to see more out of” Sprong in exhibition games and he hasn’t shown much since that point so there can’t be much change on that front.
  • A “2nd” power play unit of Letang with Brassard, Jake Guentzel and two of Sprong/Rust/Riikola/Jack Johnson sure sounds like a lot of fun.