The Pittsburgh Penguins had a long offseason and made a few changes over the summer to prime the team for the 2019-20 season. But, as mentioned in the preview, one of the most interesting elements of last night was just how little had really changed.
If you look at last April’s Pens/Islanders Game 4 lineup to last night’s regular season opener the only differences to the lineup were:
Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust*, Matt Cullen and Garrett Wilson out....Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev, Dominik Kahun and Teddy Blueger in.
Obviously, Rust’s lack of availability due to breaking a hand in preseason was unavoidable for the team, but otherwise they trotted out not only the same exact defensive personnel but also the same pairs. The same exact coaches behind the bench. Unsurprisingly, the group struggled in the opener much like they struggled in the playoffs, but that’s a different topic.
The interesting point here is the team really only shuffled a couple of fourth line pieces around in losing Cullen and Wilson, then made their move to drop Kessel, signed Tanev as a free agent and that’s about it. For an off-season where sweeping changes were perhaps on the horizon, for better or worse the 2019-20 Penguins’ team is setup a lot like the 2018-19 Pens were.
That may be disconcerting, but there are some new faces to look at who have joined the team. It goes without mentioning that a one game sample size in an 82 game marathon of a season means very little in the overall scheme of things. But, as the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression so let’s focus on the new guys and talk about what we saw out of them last night and what (if anything) to make of it.
Score sheet stats: 3 shots on goal, 5 hits, 2 giveaways, 1 takeaway, 3 blocked shots in 13:31 played (12:05 at even strength, 1:26 shorthanded)
Deeper stat: drew three penalties on the night
—Tanev was exactly as advertised; a whirl of energy and speed that was very active all over the ice throwing hits, blocking shots, getting up and back quickly. It remains to be seen if he has the hands and finishing ability to be a Pascal Dupuis type of supporting winger to ride shotgun passably in the Pens’ top-six forward group, but Tanev was part of the engine that made the team’s best line of the night with Evgeni Malkin go.
Drawing penalties is an under the radar but important aspect of Tanev’s game too. Last season in Winnipeg he drew 27 calls, 19 of which came at 5v5 tying him for 27th place in the league among forwards along side such names as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brady Tkachuk and Joe Pavelski. That’s a big deal for a grinder to draw as many calls as some of the stars of the league — including the freaking MVP in Kucherov!
For reference, last year no Penguin forward drew more penalties at 5v5 than Jake Guentzel’s 17. Malkin had 16 and Sidney Crosby only drew 13 penalties (even though I thought other fans whine that refs look after him too much...). Tanev sending the Pens to a power play is a big deal and helpful! He obviously isn’t going to draw three calls a night every single game, but it’s a helpful element to his game that won’t show up directly under his name in the scoresheet but should help the team. Malkin’s PPG, the lone goal Pittsburgh scored last night, was on an ensuing power play that Tanev drew.
First impression Grade: B+ (in a perfect world, generate offense, but overall can’t be mad at the performance at all. Tanev had one of the best individual games of anyone on the home team)
Scoresheet stats: 1 hit, 1 blocked shots in 10:49 played (all ES)
Kahun was the opposite of Tanev with an almost invisible start. That’s not a compliment. Though Kahun did barely play, his TOI was 10th among forwards and only slightly more than Dominik Simon’s 10:47 and Teddy Blueger’s 10:17. Still, Kahun did almost nothing with the shifts he got and wasn’t very noticeable to the eye and didn’t do a lot that ended up on the score sheet.
That continues a bad trend for Kahun, who started the preseason with Crosby but played his way off the line relatively quickly. Since then he’s floated around the lineup, never really sticking anywhere yet. This is a case of “hey it’s a long season, these things will sort out eventually” but it is a bit unsettling that Kahun has not found a niche or a role yet. Last season Kahun was a pretty decent point producer playing with some of Chicago’s most skilled players, but at this point he seems far from getting that opportunity with the Peds.
First impression grade: D (not really a huge deal, but a very quiet game in limited minutes is certainly the opposite of impressive)
Score sheet stats: 1 SOG, 1 shot attempt that got blocked, 3 hits, 1 takeaway in 15:22 (12:29 ES, 2:53 power play)
The last week of the preseason got derailed for Galchenyuk who had to deal with a reported minor, but nagging type of injury. The word from Arizona is this isn’t rare for Galchenyuk who seems to get dinged up a lot. We’ll have to see how that plays out over the course of the season, hopefully he’s able to stay available and not miss lots of practice time going forward.
Galchenyuk’s first impression was a bit of a surprise, throwing his body around and even recording the game’s “sandwich of the game” for a sequence where he dished out two big hits in open ice in quick succession. For a player who had only 62 official hits in 72 games last season, that was certainly an unexpected but pleasant surprise to see Galchenyuk get really engaged physically and play with a bit of an edge.
That aside, you’d really like to see more than 1 SOG (and only 2 shot attempts) for a player that’s going to have to be a main scoring weapon for the team this year. It was interesting that the player who seemed to get open and present himself for passes (and therefore become the recipient of passes from Malkin) was Tanev last night, not Galchenyuk.
Again, just one game, but that’s a development to watch moving forward — can Galchenyuk and Malkin click in the offensive zone and generate scoring chances? Pittsburgh needs that, desperately. Fair or not, Galchenyuk has been placed in a role to be a like-for-like replacement to Kessel. Kessel was a consistent point producer in Pittsburgh, and a lot of that is falling on Galchenyuk to replace. The Pens can’t afford to check the scoring in a couple weeks and see him have just a point or two in when we’re six or seven games into the season. He’s got more to give, and hopefully is 100% healthy and able to provide that.
First impression grade: C- (nice job showing a physical edge that wasn’t expected, but Pens need more on the puck)