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First impressions: analyzing the new players on the Penguins

It’s only one game, but you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There is always a risk of reading too much into one performance in the NHL. There’s another game tomorrow, after all, and one game is only worth so much. Still, for many players, this was the first look we had at seeing them in a Penguin jersey. Let’s check out some instant impressions made.

Two thumbs up

Mark Jankowski

—Jankowski was an interesting reclamation project signing this past off-season by Pittsburgh. In the two seasons from 2017-19 with Calgary, he scored 31 total goals. He scored 32 points in 2018-19, seemingly on a path to carve out a nice little niche as a lower line forward. Then, last season Jankowski cratered, scoring only seven points in 56 games with Calgary, eventually becoming a scratch and he was let go by Calgary.

It took one night for Jankowski to record 28.6% of his point total last year by scoring a goal and adding a nice assist in his very first game with Pittsburgh. The points won’t always be there for a lower line, so perhaps more important in the big picture is just how good Jankowski looked centering Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev.

Tanev and Jankowski played four years of college hockey together at Providence — a career that culminated with a national championship — so it’s no surprise where the chemistry came from there. McCann’s skill and ability on the puck adds an extra dimension and helpful element to help tip possession.

It’s only one night, but the Jankowski experiment pretty much couldn’t have started off better. Finding that lower line center has always been a key question, and it’s far too early to say Jankowski has proven himself to be the answer. But the first game shows he might have more to offer than many realized or might have expected.

Thumbs in the middle

Evan Rodrigues

—It’s tough to play on the Sidney Crosby line. A lot of points are frequently hammered home about chemistry and learning how to play with Sid and being in the right spot at the right time. And it takes time to develop (unless you’re a hockey savant like Jake Guentzel). Anyways, Rodrigues was OK. He was out there. A few times, especially on one Crosby centering pass, he wasn’t in the exact right place. Tough to do. Rodrigues is pretty much just a place holder anyways until Kasperi Kapanen gets out of quarantine, so it’s difficult to be too harsh on him. But he certainly didn’t show or demonstrate anything to show he deserves a longer look than necessary on the top line.

Colton Sceviour

—He was one of the few players with a sub-50% Corsi and sub-50% Scoring Chance% on the night. Probably to be expected for a fourth liner. He was on the ice for a goal against, which while not his fault isn’t a good thing. Sceviour had on shot on goal, four hits (only Tanev was credited with more on the Pens last night) and a blocked shot in 12+ minutes of work. That’s pretty much what he’s going to do — play a bit, be there, throw the body around. Not much to it.

Cody Ceci

—He had a bad moment, getting caught flat-footed and having to slash at the hands of a rushing player, taking a trip to the box. But other than that, I didn’t think Ceci was that noticeable out there. For him, that’s a great thing.

Ceci had no shot attempts and clearly is going to provide almost nothing offensively, it’ll just be a small victory if he can snap a pass on the tape and not just clear the puck or make an errant pass. Ceci had one hit and one blocked shot in 16:29 played. The TOI is important, and less is definitely going to be more.

Hmm, play the bad players less often? Todd Reirden, you’re a genius!

(That said, I bet it will change. Ceci only played 0:30 on the PK, the least of any Penguin defenseman. As he gets more acclimated to the team that is only going to increase. If they had a full training camp, I don’t think he’s playing only 30 seconds on the PK. But, time will tell. So far using Ceci like a clear #6D is about as best as we can hope for.)

One thumb down

Mike Matheson

It was an eventful game for Matheson, and not in a good way. He was on ice for three goals that the Flyers scored, and in the penalty box for another. Not all of that is his fault, though failing to clear a puck and then letting James van Riemsdyk camp in front of the net and not tie his stick up so JvR can tip in an incoming point shot isn’t a great look.

Matheson was on the ice for the highest amount of high danger chances at 5v5, and seemed to live up to his reputation of being a mistake-prone inconsistent defenseman who tends to see a lot of bad things happen.

It’s not the end of the world — Matheson had two SOG and four total shot attempts. Somehow, he played 0:00 on the power play. (Again, like the Ceci note, if this was a normal year and he had more time to work in with the team on the ice, I’d like to think he’s getting a role on the power play, and hopefully that will still come with time).

Still, on night one there wasn’t much chemistry with John Marino, which is a bad first impression since Marino has been able to help lesser players to decent stretches of play. Ideally Matheson settles in and finds his groove, on night one it wasn’t there.