Johnson Plays Well in Pens Victory
Thursday, 09.22.2011 / 10:42 PM / Features
By Sam Kasan
Penguins winger Nick Johnson knew he had a great opportunity to show his speed and skills while playing alongside NHL veterans Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy against Chicago Thursday night. And he made the most of it, recording two assists, a plus-2 and four shots in a 4-1 Pittsburgh victory.
“They’re NHL 20-goal scorers. They’re legit,” Johnson said. “They’re good players. They found a way to score.
“You don’t want to let them down. At times out there I was nervous playing with the puck. They’re expecting me to make plays with it as well. You want to get going and you’re excited with the opportunity, so it was good.”
Johnson helped open the scoring for the Penguins. He drove to the net and tipped a shot from Kennedy, who was above the circles. The tipped puck clanked off the post, robbing him of a goal. However, Staal swooped in to bat the bouncing puck over the line.
“It was bouncing around a bit, thankfully Staal was able to get something on it,” Johnson said.
His second helper came on a three-on-two rush. Johnson retrieved the puck along the wall, but he lost his footing and fell down. Johnson got back on his feet and threw the puck toward the net, where it eventually bounced right to the stick of Kennedy, who swatted it into the goal.
“It was a three-on-two. I yelled for Kennedy to fire it over, and he did,” Johnson said. “It really worked out better that way (with the fall). If I would have gotten it on the far wall I don’t know what I would have done with it. I probably would have been taken away. This way the puck appeared free, but was right near me. I knew we had people going to the net. I just chucked it there. He made a great tip.”
Johnson’s efforts did not go unnoticed by his coaches.
“He played with Jordan last year on the No. 1 line and did a good job in that regard. Playing with him and TK today, you saw some of that,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “You saw his speed and going wide a couple times. It turned into some plays for that line, to get some offense. That’s what Nick has got to bring and he’s got to bring that with a little bit of tenacity as well.”
And Johnson knows that he can’t rest just yet – not if he wants to make the Penguins opening-day roster with the vast array of talent in the lineup.
“I have a long way to go,” he said. “I’m making some adjustments on the fly. I got some results tonight, but there’s still a lot of work to do. You forget how out of it you are in the summer. There are some more adjustments.”
Prior to the Penguins’ preseason contest with Chicago, Pittsburgh trimmed its roster by 13 players.
Of those 13 players, the most notable name on the list was 2009 first-round draft pick Simon Despres.
“Simon is a guy we’ve seen play in a lot of exhibition games, six over the last two years. We’ve seen him play quite a bit of hockey,” Bylsma said. “He’s an extremely talented player, a guy we think can play in this league and be a factor in this league.
“Right now for Simon, he’s not going to make our opening day roster as it stands. Right now getting down to Wilkes-Barre and starting in pro hockey is the best thing for his development. We expect a lot of great things out of this kid. Getting settled and learning to play pro hockey is where he is at right now. It doesn’t necessarily mean where he is in the depth chart. It’s just getting down, playing hockey and getting started in his pro career.”
Staal finished with 2 goals in the game, including a beautiful breakaway tally with 8.5 seconds left in the third period. He was also a plus-3, 4 shots and won 63 percent of his faceoffs.
Kennedy had 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points. He was a plus-3 with 4 shots.
Brent Johnson stopped 9 of 10 shots. Scott Munroe stopped all 6 shots he faced.
Matt Cooke notched the game-winning goal on a nice re-direction on a shot from Craig Adams. The puck his Cooke's shaft and hopped over the shoulder of goaltender Ray Emery.