LONDON, ONT. - The Penguins prospects may have lost their opening game of the 2013 rookie tournament to Ottawa 4-1 on Thursday afternoon at Budweiser Gardens, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes wasn't displeased with his team's performance.
“If you look at the way that we played and the work ethic we had, we really had carried the tempo, carried the play for the majority of the game,” said Hynes, who is overseeing the tournament with WBS assistant coach Alain Nasreddine.
“A big difference in the game was in the second period we played very well and we didn't get rewarded for it then. Then as the game went on we continued to play well but we just didn't find the back of the net. But overall it was a good performance. We really liked how the guys competed and for the most part how we played.”
Free-agent invitee forward Cody Sylvester, who just finished his fifth season with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, scored Pittsburgh's only goal on the power play when he banged home a rebound off a Scott Harrington point shot. The Penguins finished with a 32-23 advantage in shots.
Here's the lineup Pittsburgh used…
Cody Sylvester - Richard Nejezchleb - Jean-Sebastien Dea
Scott Simmonds - Connor Rankin - Carter Rowney
Nick D'Agostino - Clark Seymour
Here are our notes and observations from the game…
- GOALIES SPLIT DUTIES
The Penguins dressed goaltenders Eric Hartzell and Tristan Jarry for this game, with the two of them splitting duties. Hartzell started in net for Pittsburgh, making 18 saves on 20 shots before getting replaced by Jarry with just over six minutes remaining in the second period. He allowed two goals on 12 shots in the loss.
The Penguins traded up to select Jarry in the second round (44th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, and he is the only member of that class at this tournament for Pittsburgh. So not only is Jarry the newest player in this organization; he is also by far the youngest as he is the only one with a 1995 birthdate. And this competition is certainly different than what he had been experiencing at his junior team's training camp, the Edmonton Oil Kings, last week.
All of that being said, Jarry performed well in his first game with the Penguins despite his situation. He said going in he felt nervous, but eventually he settled down and felt comfortable. He let in the third goal early, but recovered to make some big stops for the Penguins, especially on the penalty kill.
“It's a little bit faster than what we're used to coming out of main camp back home with the Oil Kings,” he said. “So it's a step up from that and I think it's good to test me out.”
“He's a very talented player. He has good instincts, he's athletic and he's a big body in net,” Hynes added. “He takes up a lot of the net. So he had some good saves for us today.”
- HARRINGTON, MAATTA PAIRED UP
Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington had skated together in this arena the last two seasons as teammates with the London Knights. But on Thursday, they partnered up on the blue line in Budweiser Gardens not in the green and gold of their junior team, but in the black and gold of the NHL club that drafted them one year apart.
The two of them have done so much for London these past two seasons. Harrington captained the Knights in 2012-13, with Maatta serving as his alternate. The two of them anchored London's blueline, leading them to back-to-back Ontario Hockey League championships and Memorial Cup appearances. And they've become close friends through all of that, so it's been special for them being teammates not just in London, but in Pittsburgh too - and hopefully continuing their success together in the NHL someday.
Maatta laughed that he was “happy” when he found out he'd be paired with Harrington, saying “We've been playing in London two years and have had a great two years. I think we are real good friends and it's absolutely great to have him with me here. I really enjoy playing with 'Harry.' He's a great player so it's easy to play with him.”
Harrington agreed, saying “We just saw we were put together and I think we were pretty happy about that. It's always nice when you can play with someone you know and somebody you're good friends with. It's cool and especially being in this rink, it's pretty special.”
The coaching staff opted to pair them together hoping that would make the two of them more comfortable in their first game. “They had played together before, and it was just something we thought would give them a good chance to be able to have a good first performance,” Hynes explained.
And it did.
“Having Scott playing with me, I felt more comfortable and it was easier to get into the game with a partner you know,” Maatta said.
The two of them got the assists on Pittsburgh's only goal, and combined for a few plays that proved their familiarity with each other.
- POULIOT IMPRESSES
In just one game, it's easy to see why the Penguins took Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“Forwards are going to love playing with him,” Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said of the offensive defenseman that summer. “Pouliot is going to be that smooth, Brian Campbell-type of skater that can get you out of your end, be quick on our retrievals and put the puck on our forward's sticks.”
He did all of that on Thursday.
Pouliot was partnered with Philip Samuelsson (yes, he is Ulf's son), and it seemed like the two of them played the most minutes out of all the pairings. Pouliot kept making plays that stood out on both ends of the ice - especially on special teams. At one point on the penalty kill he went behind his own net, boxed out his guy on the boards and kept him pinned there while clearing (even though he fell to his knees at the last second). On the power play, he ensured the puck left his zone quickly and he made plays under pressure on the other blue line.
“Off the start I was a little shaky, maybe,” Pouliot said of his play. “Still settling into things. But as the game went on I thought I jumped up in the play more, created some chances and was pretty good defensively, too.”
Pouliot played on the top power-play unit, manning the point with Maatta. Pouliot quarterbacks the power play for Portland, and that ability transitioned to Thursday's game.
“It was good. That's what I love. I love to do that,” Pouliot said. “I think that's one of the stronger points of my game. So I try and be the best I can out there at that. Be the best player on the ice on the power play and all-around.”
- DEFENSIVE DEPTH ON DISPLAY
We talk so much about how stocked the Penguins are when it comes to defensemen - honestly, Pittsburgh may have the deepest collection of young, talented and promising blueliners in the league. In addition to the guys who are already at the NHL level, like Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres, some of them - like Brian Dumoulin - have made the jump to the American Hockey League. But guys like Harrington, Maatta and Pouliot have yet to do so. So while we've been covering them for some time now, for the most part we have only seen them on the ice at development camp in the summer.
This tournament is our first real chance to see some of these elite defensive prospects play together in competitive situations, and we got that on Thursday. It was a treat to watch the three of them in this game and how they handled all situations. And hopefully, someday we will see all of them wearing black and gold at the NHL level for Pittsburgh.
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