While the preseason doesn’t exactly count for anything, there are some positives to be taken from it.
Aside from the third period of last night’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Penguins have looked like a determined group.
They’re battling hard and appear as if they are out to prove that the only reason they bowed out early last year was because of injuries. Whether or not that’s the case, I don’t know, but it sure seems like it.
One thing I have been impressed with thus far is the power play.
The man advantage clicked four times against the Wild and Steve Sullivan ripped the twine to get the Pens on the board against the Blackhawks.
There seems to be a focus on actually shooting the puck instead of lulling their opponents (and the fans) to sleep with perimeter passes.
Pucks are getting to the net, bodies are getting to the net and red lights are going off behind the net.
Last night, Sullivan was lined up as the left defenseman for a set piece off a faceoff. Evgeni Malkin cleanly won the draw back to Kris Letang who feathered it to Sullivan, who hammered a knucklepuck by Ray Emery.
Somewhere, Russ Tyler and Gordon Bombay smiled.
If you blinked you missed the play. It happened that quick.
Speaking of Malkin, how good has he looked so far? He’s cruising so far and looking like the Geno we’ve all come to know.
Sure, last night’s goal was an easy one into the empty net, but he looks harder to knock off the puck than ever before.
Malkin doesn’t look like he’s holding anything back in these preseason games. If he is and he’s playing this well, the rest of the league could be in trouble.
Speaking of trouble, it sure has followed Matt Cooke around through his career, which culminated in a 17-game suspension last year.
Now, I’m not going to go back and dig up the past. I do not condone any of the questionable hits, which resulted in suspensions last year. That’s been documented on here on several occasions.
However, I am willing to give him a chance to prove his words about changing his game. Thus far, it’s clear that he is working to change it up to avoid the dangerous hits he had become known for.
During one shift last night, he had a chance to bury two different Blackhawks into the boards from behind. He pulled up both times and played the puck instead. One of those decisions resulted in a shot on net.
While his goal was completely laughable on Emery’s part, perhaps it was a reward from the hockey gods for showing signs of change.
Also positive, was the play of Brent Johnson while under serious pressure in the third period against Chicago.
He was the most noticeable Penguin on the ice and not because he was facing a shooting gallery. He was sharp, compact and came up with key saves at key times to give his team a chance to win.
He stopped 18 of 19 shots in the third and 35 of 37 in the game. By comparison, Emery allowed three goals on 18 shots for the game. Not a good showing for a guy battling for the backup goaltender position.
From a goaltending standpoint, Cooke’s goal from center ice and Joe Vitale’s stuff-in never should have happened, but I’ll gladly take them any day.
The Penguins will close out the preseason Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. against the Detroit Red Wings.
The regular season will begin with a three-game western Canada trip. Up first, the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks.
Should the Pens prevail on opening night, let’s hope the Canucks’ fans react a little better than the last time they watched their team on home ice…
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