Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
Camp 2011, Preseason Game 2 vs. Chicago
September 22, 2011
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For a little over two periods, tonight's game was not much to write home about. To say it didn't match last night's contest against Detroit was an understatement. I imagine it was shaping up to be the kind of game the professionals hate to cover. Fortunately, I am not a professional and the game did pick up a bit in the third.
Last night, Matt Niskanen stated his case for one of the final two or three spots on the Penguin defensive corp. Tonight, his three chief competitors all took the ice - Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, and Alex Picard.
Many people thought Lovejoy had solidified himself in the #5 spot after a strong finish last season. Earlier in the week (and surprisingly to some), head coach Dan Bylsma said the 5, 6, 7, and 8 defensive spots were not set in stone. Lovejoy did just about all he could do tonight to change Bylsma's mind. He had the strongest game among the three guys in serious contention for a job, and was perhaps the best Penguin on the ice from start to finish. His skating was very good and you could almost feel his confidence from watching him move around the ice. He was not hesitant about joining the rush when it was appropriate to do so, and his decision making was solid throughout. He was also very good in his end and looked especially sharp about boxing out in front of his own net. There were a fair number of loose pucks in and around the slot, and Lovejoy was quick to identify his man and box him out and/or tie his stick up. It was a very impressive game for him.
Engelland also acquitted himself well. He doesn't have the wheels Lovejoy has, but he still did a good job of getting around the rink. Like Lovejoy, Engelland wasn't shy about jumping up when he could and even led a few rushes into the Chicago zone. I'm not sure how often I want to see that happening, but on this night, it worked out; Engelland managed to tip a Nick Johnson centering pass on goal and Tyler Kennedy buried the rebound. The physical game you expect from him was readily evident, as he registered a game high eight hits.
Picard was a little disappointing. I expected a little more from a guy that hasn't played in the AHL since the 2007-08 season. He seemed hesitant at times and the puck seemed to be bouncing around on him more so than others. He gave the puck away a few times, and never got to let that big left-handed shot go, which is one of the strengths of his game. He wasn't terrible, but on a night where two of his competitors had strong games, he did not.
Zbynek Michalek had a rough night. He took a high stick, received a couple of questionable hits, and was used as a perfect screen by Blackhawk forward Michael Frolik on Chicago's lone goal. It never really looked like he got comfortable tonight.
Ditto for Scott Harrington. It looked like he was felling the nerves of being in his first NHL exhibition game. He got better as the game went on, but far from his best night.
Brian Strait was solid. I didn't notice him a ton, which for him means he was doing his job well.
Brent Johnson looked like a goalie knocking the rust off. He created a fair number of second chances for Chicago by putting rebounds in less than ideal places. To his credit, he battled through it and that's really all you can ask at this point of the season. He also got a good amount of help from guys like Lovejoy.
He wasn't as noticeable as Evgeni Malkin the other night, but Jordan Staal was just as productive. One garbage goal from driving the net and getting a piece of the rebound and another on an incredible individual effort that left a Blackhawk corkscrewed into the ice and Ray Emery wondering what happened.
Nick Johnson seems to be a forgotten man coming into camp. Like most everyone else on the team, he didn't do much in the first two periods, but he had an excellent third. A very nice deflection hit the post, but led to Staal's first goal. He did blow a tire on Tyler Kennedy's goal, but stuck with it and the second effort allowed him to get the puck toward the net.
Matt Cooke also returned to action for the first time since his suspension. He got just enough of a Craig Adams' shot to deflect it in. Cooke only recorded one hit, which is low for him, but not surprising given his "re-learning" of the game.
The Pens are currently scheduled to practice at Southpointe tomorrow at 10am (http://penguins.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=588431), so check back tomorrow for more tweets and possibly another report.
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