Last night the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 in a preseason game. The situation was reversed from Monday when Pittsburgh brought a very JV team to State College (maybe even a freshman team!) and Buffalo was strong. Last night not too many NHL caliber players from Columbus made the jaunt east to Pittsburgh, and the Pens unleashed some of their bigger guns at home and, unsurprisingly, were the better team.
There’s no use over-reacting or putting too much stock in the NHL’s second preseason game, but it is a game situation nonetheless so let’s look at some takeaway thoughts the morning after.
Malk and Chuck connection
One of the most important subplots of the Pens’ preseason is getting Evgeni Malkin into top form so he can hit the ground running (skating?) for the start of the regular season. So far, everyone has been very pleased with the way Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk have meshed. As Josh Yohe noted in The Athletic:
There is a sense, of course, that if Malkin and Galchenyuk reach their full potential as linemates, the identity of the third player on that line is almost irrelevant.
Malkin has looked especially determined in the early days of training camp and had his legs in a big way against the Blue Jackets. Galchenyuk wasn’t far behind, something the Penguins hope becomes a trend.
“I think they’re getting more familiar,” Sullivan said. “You can see them looking for one another on the ice. They have the potential to be a real good tandem. To this point, we like what we’ve seen. They’re starting to establish some familiarity, some chemistry. So far, we like what they’ve done together.”
Galchenyuk scored a power play goal, demonstrating his shot from distance at the top of the circle that should be a weapon.
ALEX GOALCHENYUK! pic.twitter.com/RUpR4GAMCq— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 19, 2019
Malkin would go on to get a primary assist when Jake Guentzel joined Malk and Chuck later in the game, though of course we won’t be seeing a lot of that trio when the real games count.
Galchenyuk also almost had a tap in from a great Malkin pass, if not for a terrific stop by the CBJ goalie.
Video evidence of the excellent side-to-side toe save by Elvis Merzlikins earlier. #CBJ pic.twitter.com/x7S09qPHJ3— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) September 20, 2019
The hunt for the third member of that line will probably be a fluid situation — “we may have some guys on that right side to explore different options,” Sullivan said after the game. Brandon Tanev has been there most the first week of camp, but then again Daniel Sprong was with Sidney Crosby the first week of last camp, so read into early training camp pairs at your own risk.
Sullivan likes to rotate that third member of lines (one would think the speed, hands and defensive acumen of Bryan Rust would make a natural fit to try out) but the important part right now is that he’s found the most important part of the second line: Malkin and Galchenyuk.
The puck comes off the stick of Legare different
It took all of about three or four shots back in June at prospect camp, a week after the draft, to realize that Nathan Legare can whip the puck something special. It just comes off his stick a bit heavier.
Legare stood out in June for that. He stood out in early September in Buffalo in the prospects challenge leading the Pens’ youngster with two goals in three games. And now he’s standing out scoring two goals in a NHL preseason game last night.
We’ll have more on him at PensBurgh later today so I’m not going to drone on too much about it, but it’s encouraging. As has been written this summer, some in the scouting community preferred Legare (Pittsburgh’s third round pick) over their first round pick Samuel Poulin.
You can see in that article why he fell to 74th overall, despite standing out in the QMJHL scoring 45 goals last year. His scouting reports are littered with nuggets like: “I just wish he was a better skater”, “A wonky skating stride is Legare’s most noticeable weakness”, “Légaré could probably stand to lose 5-10 pounds in an effort to get lighter and improve his foot speed”.
Getting a taste of NHL action should only serve to highlight where Legare still needs to grow and improve, and it looks like that hasn’t been lost on him.
Schultz said Legare has "a hell of a shot. You give him any kind of time and space, he's going to make you pay for it." Legare said scoring was "a special emotion" and his takeaway tonight will be the speed, with skating not his strongest skill and something he plans to work on.— Angie (@acarducci) September 20, 2019
There’s obviously a lot of development left for an 18-year old that’s marveling at the speed of an NHL preseason game that only contains about 50% NHL talent in said game. Legare has a ways to go, but it certainly is exciting that his skills — namely shooting a puck really hard — are going to translate to higher levels if his legs keep up.
Simon center experiment failing?
The preseason is a time to try out new ideas and concepts and see what works. For the Pens and Dominik Simon that has been getting some work at center. The Pens attention was grabbed by Simon mostly playing C for the Czech Republic last spring at the World Championships and Simon scored 12 points (4 goals + 8 assists) in 10 games. For a guy who has struggled to put up numbers in the NHL on the wing, that will sure catch some attention.
Simon didn’t really stand out last night. He started the game in a Crosby place-holder spot playing with Guentzel and Dominik Kahun, the two wingers Crosby has played with all camp. The lines got shuffled in a bit and Simon was moved off it.
It was a rough night for Simon — Pittsburgh dominated possession and had 57.1% of all Corsi events over the game at 5-on-5. But while Simon was on the ice, the Pens had just 44.4%, leading him to have the second worst relative Corsi night on the team (behind Kahun). For a player in Simon that usually crushes it in Corsi results, that’s a very telling and a good indicator of failure. At least on a one night sample size.
Simon also won only one of six faceoffs, getting worked over pretty good in the circle all night by Brandon Dubinsky. So if you’re looking at “can he be a bottom-six center, matchup against another and help win draws” the data from last night goes in the negative column.
Add in no shots on goal, a giveaway and pretty much nothing else of substance and that’s a bad night to be in a prime spot auditioning for a new role. We’ll have to see how long the “Simon as center” experiment goes or if they give it another shot to play out a little longer, but at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to have a lot of staying power.