Exhibition games don’t count, and lucky enough for the Pittsburgh Penguins after a 3-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators that brought out some frustrations at a high level for a game that doesn’t count.
What does count is gearing up for the regular season, and right now the Pens’ power play remains at square one while incorporating Erik Karlsson to the mix (and also temporarily operating without Jake Guentzel). Then again, giving them a spot at square one could be offtering too much credit after an 0-for-6 night that failed to accomplish the basics at times, most painfully during an extended double-minor penalty in the third period that failed to yield any forward momentum or anything positive at all to speak about.
After that display, a disgusted Karlsson slammed the bench door in frustration when he returned from his shift.
Hey, the game doesn’t mean anything in the standings but it’s never too early to be upset with a process that should be further along.
The Penguins still have just about everything to sort out with the man advantage: from which player will primarily lead the breakouts to positional setup once gaining the zone and then some semblance of finding shots, they could use it all. The power play has only practiced a handful of minutes, these things take time from a starting point.
It’s only early and such a drastic change to adapt to Karlsson and vice versa was bound to not be a seamless transition. All witnesses to Sidney Crosby’s homecoming can confirm, it’s definitely not seamless. There’s still time to figure it out and get building for what could (and should...and has to be) a successful power play. But the clock is starting to tick loudly and the disjointed group has such a long way to go that it can’t help but be the lead story for the Pens at this point of training camp.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- The Pens did have 40 shots on goal, but unfortunately tracking sites like Natural Stat Trick weren’t in tune with the contest. Would have liked to see how much quality that Pittsburgh piled up with all that quantity, but wouldn’t expect much to be much. Pittsburgh had a couple stretches of good zone time, but didn’t really have very many memorable threats to score.
- For their part, Ottawa didn’t have much more. Ridly Greig found space rushing down the left and snapped a beautiful high shot while Karlsson passively sat back and didn’t close the gap on him (there’s that Karlsson defensive weakness showing itself, though it could be written off as just going 85% in pre-season). Later a Ryan Graves shot attempt was blocked and led to a Tim Stutzle breakaway at the other end of the rink. Tristan Jarry stopped that but was helpless for Brady Tkachuk crashing on the rebound before Graves could get back in position. And that was all the offense Ottawa produced until an empty net goal.
- At different times it looked like P.O Joseph was in pain after blocking a shot, and then Kris Letang got slammed in the corner. Both players continued the game, apparently no worse for wear. But it was a good reminder that no matter how bad the team looks, as long as they got through it healthy there is a measure of success in that.
- Huge chance for Radim Zohorna getting a shot on playing on Evgeni Malkin’s line. Nothing to stand out in a hugely positive way, but seemingly no lapses as bad as Alex Nylander’s defensive miscue in the prior pre-season game. Who knows if the coaches will evaluate him good, bad or indifferent, but for as god as he looked in camp so far it was a quieter game for him than most previous outings.
- Vinnie Hinostroza was notable in flashes with his speed. The Pens adding a lower line player on waivers today sends a message to a bubble player like Hinostroza. Not sure if it was needle-moving for him either, the spot is likely wide open with a new candidate on the verge of joining the mix for one of the few open spots on the NHL roster.
- Being the unofficial Sidney Crosby homecoming, this game unfolded in a slow motion train-wreck that felt a little like the infamous bubble game on Crosby’s birthday in 2020 when the Pens were eliminated from the playoffs and the harder they tried, the more mired in quicksand they became. A lot more was on the line then, but same stale feel. At least this can be chalked up to pre-season and not meaning anything. And the memories are there just the same, even if the ending wasn’t fitting.
- P.S - barring league incompetence (which...well, you know) in no way should this be the last chance for this occasion. The weekend was huge for hockey and a love fest between a community and one of the game’s most important players. The NHL should put a pre-season game for the Pens in Halifax at least every other year. Big ask but maybe fly the Avalanche east for the occasion once too. If they’re sending teams to Australia, what’s another 60-90 minutes from Colorado’s normal away exhibition games on a chartered jet? Even if not them, the event means something to Crosby, it means something to the people in Nova Scotia that almost never get to see NHL players up close. Makes too much sense for the league and sport not to have the Pens up there regularly. (Now cue them not going back for 15-20 years....)