The Penguins ended their preseason schedule on an excellent note on Wednesday night in Detroit, skating to a decisive 5-1 win over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
* The Penguins dressed an NHL lineup for this game, their final one of the preseason. And it showed. As coach Dan Bylsma said, “this was a complete game in a lot of our areas.” They were strong in all three zones, had puck possession the majority of the game, delivered on special teams (2-for-3 on the power play; 3-for-3 on the penalty kill) and overall just executed. Playing like this as a team in the final exhibition game is important, as the guys were not pleased with how they’d performed in the other contests. It’s the perfect note to enter the regular season on.
* We have been talking a lot this training camp about the open spot on Malkin and Neal’s line. But tonight, it was that other line in the top six – you know, Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis – that dominated in this game. What was the best line in the NHL last season looked just that on Wednesday, as they combined for five points – Kunitz scored twice, Dupuis netted one and Crosby had two assists. There was a sense of relief from those guys surrounding their performance tonight, as Kunitz said they hadn’t been pleased with the way they’d played in their prior exhibition games together.
“We didn’t have a great preseason leading up to this one,” he said. “I think we played a little harder, we watched clips, we talked about what we need to do. Maybe just play better in our zone and come with our speed. It’s something that we did on the first goal, (I) got the puck out and Sid made a great play picking it up on the wall and making that play to ‘Duper’ and putting it in. so that kind of just led us off to have a good game tonight.”
* Yeah, speaking of Sid’s play – it was vintage Crosby. He was absolutely flying in this game, and that assist was a prime example. He sped up the wall with his shoulders hunched the way they get when he’s got his legs moving, and moved around the defender – sending him flying with one arm – and managed to win the crazy bouncing puck across the ice to Dupuis all alone in the slot. He moved it to his forehand and sent it past goalie Petr Mrazek.
Crosby and Malkin looked like themselves in this game, making those kinds of plays that only they can make. They look to be back at peak form at the perfect time, and appear ready to lead the Penguins to a strong start this regular season.
* Jussi Jokinen scored his fourth goal in three preseason games tonight in Detroit. Jokinen has a skill element to his game (take, for example, that he has scored on 31 of 67 career shootout attempts – the third-highest total in NHL history) and the coaches have given him the opportunity to showcase that during training camp. In addition to playing in the top six on Malkin and Neal’s line tonight, Jokinen saw time on the second power-play unit. It’s where he scored on a beautiful play. Matt Niskanen made a perfect pass to Jokinen cutting across the blue line to send him in on a breakaway. Jokinen juked to his backhand and smoothly roofed a shot into the netting past Mrazek. Jokinen has certainly been impressive during this training camp, his first full one with the team – and he has done everything he can to prove to the coaching staff he deserves time in the top six with Malkin and Neal.
* The defense pairs were slightly altered for this game, with Paul Martin not playing (he missed Tuesday’s practice as he returned to his native Minnesota for a family situation). Deryk Engelland filled in for him next to Brooks Orpik, who didn’t play the third period. Coach Bylsma said after the game that “I think at the time of the game it was a lower-body injury, but really not a concern. But I don’t have an update postgame.” When asked if it was precautionary, he responded “yes.” The other pairs, however, are ones we might see during the regular season. Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi complement each other, while Robert Bortuzzo has certainly made his case to be a regular in the lineup this season – so there’s a chance we could see him where he was tonight next to Matt Niskanen.
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