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Pens/Sabres thoughts: not much to learn from the first preseason game

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Given the talent discrepancy, there’s not a lot to takeaway from the first Penguins’ preseason game

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres preseason Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

There’s not too much value in the results of an NHL preseason game, especially one that sees a shot difference of 47-18 because one team brought their best two offensive players and four NHL caliber NHL defenseman and the other team didn’t bring any skilled NHL forwards and no real NHL caliber defenseman.

But let’s close the book on the Penguins trip to Penn State anyways with some threads to watch.

Jack Johnson in midseason form

Poor gap control to the point that he might as well have not even been on the ice? Check

Taking penalties due to a lack of speed? Check

Getting the puck taken away at the blueline for a breakaway against? Check.

Typical Jack Johnson night.

On the plus side, Johnson was at least able to get a shot off from the point late in the game that Ryan Haggerty tipped in to tie things up. This could be an important development if it can continue because Pittsburgh offense went to die in 2018-19 with Jack Johnson on the ice:

Still, if there’s any illusions a 32-year old defenseman with 800+ NHL games under his Gucci belt is going to drastically improve or be more comfortable in the system or whatever far-flung hope was out there, game one of the preseason should answer that considering it was the same free-ranging, mistake-making defenseman out on the ice.

Ideally maybe the Penguins can get a little more offensive out of Johnson — and it would be tough to get less considering they only scored 2.09 Goals/60 with him out there, that would at least be a possible growth area. He’ll be getting enough favorable starts and QoC that it’s going to hurt a lot (again) if it doesn’t improve.

An opportunity for depth

One aspect highlighted among observers is that in the opening days of training camp there haven’t been many surprises. They NHL caliber forwards are playing well, but no one behind them is really pushing them or making big cases for increased roles.

Fortunately in the third period we saw a bit of that, with younger guys taking advantage of opportunities. In addition to Haggerty scoring, Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty recorded third period goals as well.

If you’re a forward you always want to end up on the scoresheet, and goals attract attention from the evaluators more than about anything.

Nice showing by Johnson and Lafferty to remain at least on the fringes of the roster push and keep their names in the conversation a bit more.

It would seem unrealistic that either could make the Pens think of waiving a more established player like a Teddy Blueger or a Zach Aston-Reese, but guys like Johnson/Lafferty rising to the top will mean a lot for opening injury call-ups if/when necessary.

Simon says: I can play center

In an interesting look and for the first time at the NHL level, Dominik Simon was used as a center in this game.

“For this first game we thought he had a strong game,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We liked what we saw when we saw him at the World Championships. That’s when we started to discuss Dominik as an option. I’m not sure where we’ll go with it, but we thought we’d explore it through this exhibition season.”

Preseason is a nice place to see what’s out there, and the Pens’ bottom-six center situation has been fluid in recent years. Could Simon be a guy they shuffle in at times? It’ll be interesting to see if this audition continues.

As of now Pittsburgh already has a lot of players in the mix with Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger all being center-capable players to join Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the center depth chart.

Goalie battle

We’ll have more on the backup goalie battle today, and again in a 47-18 shot situation between the two teams, I’m not too sure how much stock can be placed on this one. Casey DeSmith earned the start and stopped 23 of the 25 shots he saw (.920 save%).

In the middle of the second period, as planned, Tristan Jarry replaced DeSmith and got a chance to go at it. Jarry stopped 19 of 21 through overtime, allowing a Jack Eichel goal early in 3v3 to end the game and make it 19/22 for Jarry on the night (.864%).

Jarry earned some props from Sam Kasan on the Pens official website, including the sequence to clean-up the Jack Johnson mistake mentioned earlier for the Tage Thompson breakaway.

It was a stellar showing from goaltender Tristan Jarry, who is battling for a job as the Penguins backup goaltender. Jarry came in cold halfway through the game (Casey DeSmith got the start) and immediately stopped Tage Thompson on a breakaway. Then he slid over to stop Conor Sheary on a one-timer chance off of a 2-on-1 rush. He was under fire from the get-go, and held his own. His biggest save was a sliding, split-pad save on Thompson with five minutes left and the game tied.

Being so outgunned it’ll remain to be seen just how much this weighs for early performance, but overall on a night where the goals see 47 shots and help the team to overtime I would think both goalies earn an “atta boy” and thumbs up for a good night after dealing with a lot of work.