Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
Camp 2011, Preseason Game 3 vs. Minnesota
September 24, 2011
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I was fortunate enough to be sitting in the media level of Consol Energy Center for today's 4-1 preseason win over the Minnesota Wild. A huge thank you goes out to Sam Kasan, Jen Bullano, Jason Seidling and the entire Pens' PR staff for inviting me. I've looked up at the media level from my regular seats and thought "wow, that's up pretty high." Upon getting to my seat however, the view is excellent. You are up high, but you aren't very far back from the rink. The vantage point actually lends itself well to being able to see plays develop. The main hallway that parallels the seating area is lined with all sorts of framed newspaper re-prints that chronicle the team's history, from the drafting and debut of Mario Lemieux all the way to the building of Consol. It's an awesome look at the team's history.
The Pens lineup shook out like this:
Brad Thiessen played the entire game, but was backed up by Scott Monroe.
The first thing that jumps out from those combos to me was that Colin McDonald was getting a heck of an opportunity. Not only was he getting into his third preseason game (the only Pen to do this), he was put on the top line. He didn't get as much ice time as you might have thought, due to all of the special teams play, but at even strength he did a good job. He was solid along the boards, got to the front of the net, and got a few decent chances for himself.
Joe Morrow continued to excel. Not only did he skate on the top pairing with Kris Letang, he logged significant time in all three phases of the game (even-strength, power play, shorthanded). Yes, he racked up and goal and an assist while launching four shots on goal, but his contributions go way beyond the stat sheet. As I mentioned after day 2, part of me hates comparing 18 year old draftees to established NHL talent, let alone Hall of Famers, but when I see this kid skate, I can't help but be reminded of Scott Niedermayer. Don't get me wrong; I am not making any kind of prediction on what kind of career Morrow will have. I'm just commenting on how incredible his skating is. He just looks so effortless out there and he never seems to panic. If this version of the Penguins did not have the depth they already have on defense, he'd be a virtual lock to get a 10 game tryout at the start of the season. He's been that good.
Evgeni Malkin had another impressive outing. He's looked like the former Art Ross winner each day I've seen him since camp opened. The Pens' penalty trouble limited his ice time early (only 2:56 in the first), but eventually things settled down and he began to get going. Before you knew it, he had taken over the game. Malkin's struggles on faceoffs have been well-documented and he did struggle through two periods, only going 2-4. He turned it around in the third though, winning all four he took to finish at 60% (6-4). He also got a little work on the penalty kill in the third, and at one point turned a casual trip up ice into a decent shorthanded chance. He collected the puck in his end and headed up ice along the right wing boards. The Minnesota defenders didn't challenge him until 71 was well into their end. Malkin waited until one came to him and used him as a screen, firing a wrister on goal. It was a perfect example of taking what the defense was giving.
Nick Johnson had a solid game. He doesn't do anything spectacular (though his stickhandling is above average), but he's solid in all facets of the game. He's versatile enough to play on any line, and that's one reason the coaching staff is so high on him. The numbers would appear to be against him making the team, but I wouldn't be shocked if it happens.
Richard Park and Joe Vitale both got to state their case for a bottom six forward spot and just like the game against Detroit, Vitale had the stronger game. Park did a good job on the faceoffs he took, doing 4-2 on draws, but he took three penalties. It's hard to prove your worth on the penalty kill when you are in the box that much. Vitale took the most draws of any Penguin going 8-7. His 6:45 of shorthanded time was second among Pens forwards. He also led Pens forwards in hits with 3.
Eric Tangradi's minutes were limited from all of the penalty killing and his 5 minute major, but he managed to make an impact in that time. The hit on Matt Cullen was unfortunate, but it looked to me what Cullen pulled up and turned just as the hit was coming. Tangradi made contact shoulder to shoulder, but I was still expecting him to get a minor for it. As it turned out, no penalty was assessed on the hit, but Wild defenseman Marco Scandella racked up a double minor for instigating a fight and for doing so with a visor on. The Pens would score on both and they were off and running.
I also liked Matt Niskanen's game again. He was solid at both ends of the rink. He got work in all three phases of the game. We know versatility is a big thing for the coaching staff, so if Niskanen can continue to handle that kind of workload, it's a huge plus for him.
Check back tomorrow morning as I will be attending a split-squad scrimmage and practice prior to the this year's Season Ticket Holder Town Hall Meeting.
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