Where: Pegula Ice Arena, State College, PA
Why: The Pegula family owns the Sabres, and made a big donation to help fund the arena at Penn State. So that’s how their inclusion for a preseason game comes to be. The Penguins are the by far the best hockey team in Pennsylvania, so they’re a natural fit.
When: Today at 7:00pm
How to watch: streaming on pittsburghpenguins.com
(Note as the team has said, “because of NHL broadcast rules, the streams will only be available in the Pittsburgh region” so you are out of luck unless you can figure a way to get them to think you live in the western PA area...)
The game is also available on the radio on 105.9 The X, and to be streamed online so you can hear it that way too.
The Pens have announced the following roster for this game. It’s not exactly a star-studded group, as to be expected for a road game so early in the preseason. NHL teams usually don’t bring out the big guns for that, and Pittsburgh won’t either with this listing of players:
Forwards: Andrew Agozzino, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Ryan Haggerty, Adam Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Nathan Legare, Sam Miletic, Oula Palve, Samuel Poulin, Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon
Defensemen: Calen Addison, Kevin Czuczman, Jack Johnson, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, John Marino, Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel
Goaltenders: Casey DeSmith, Tristan Jarry
(A typical 18 skaters are allowed to dress, so expect one forward and one defenseman listed above to be a healthy scratch)
The Sabres are choosing to bring quite a bit more firepower:
Forwards: Dylan Cozens, Jack Eichel, Remi Elie, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Curtis Lazar, Andrew Oglevie, Evan Rodrigues, Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson, Jimmy Vesey
Defensemen: Rasmus Dahlin, John Gilmour, Brandon Hickey, Henri Jokiharju, Colin Miller, Casey Nelson, Marco Scandella
Goalteners: Carter Hutton, Jonas Johansson
Looks like Buffalo is intent on making a strong statement in the building that bears their owner’s name.
Up front, Eichel and Skinner are their best two players and Cozens was selected seventh overall in last summer’s draft. On defense Dahlin (the number one overall pick in 2018) had a solid NHL rookie season last year and Buffalo will bring three more players that will see regular NHL minutes (Miller, Scandella and Jokiharju).
What to watch for:
Bottom six options
This roster has a lot of third/fourth line options. Something like a Simon/Aston-Reese - Blueger - Rust could even be a fourth line, based on the way the very early practices have split out. That would be pretty exciting! It also gives chances for A. Johnson and Palve to prove their mettle and keep their names in the mix to be future injury call-ups.
Not a lot of pure skill in the lineup, so it will make for some comical power play personnel, but might be some fun to see some guys like Blueger and Rust and Simon get a lot more opportunity than they normally would with the man advantage in a normal game.
Young player debuts
2019 draft picks Nathan Legare and Samuel Poulin will be making their NHL preseason debuts. Both did pretty well in Buffalo earlier in the month at the Prospects Challenge — and if memory serves Legare notched two goals in three games — but now there’s another step-up in competition and quality for them.
Both of these players are expected to be assigned back to the Quebec Major Junior league eventually, but how well they perform in preseason games could alter the opportunities that they get to stay in NHL camp and get more time in the professional setting. It will be interesting to see if one or both of these youngsters can draw more attention and earn more.
Additionally, defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph and John Marino also won some praise from the Prospects Challenge and could be making their respective Penguins’ preseason debuts as well. Both of these players are on track to be assigned to the AHL this season, but the Pens are excited about more time for instruction and evaluation of these players too.
It remains to be seen how much of a battle it will be for the backup goalie job, but Tristan Jarry could at least do his part to make it a tough decision for the Pens, who are right up at the salary cap limit and would have natural and obvious financial advantages to keep Jarry ($675,000 salary cap hit) over DeSmith ($1.25 million cap hit).
However, contending teams can’t skimp out on a position like a backup goalie. If DeSmith is the superior player to Jarry — and he has been at every turn over the past three seasons — then that is the decision there. It would be foolish and harmful to keep a worse goalie just to save a few bucks, especially when there’s another solution and path to get under the salary cap with other decisions.
But we’ll have to see how they divide up the minutes in the net, and if Jarry can make the decision a bit tougher than it looks at this point.