Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
2006 Preseason: Game B vs. Buffalo
September 30, 2006
Martin Biron was in goal for Buffalo.
Jocelyn Thibault was in net for Pittsburgh.
*Crosby, Recchi, Gonchar, and Orpik were all sporting As on their sweaters during warmups. When the team came back out for the first period, Orpik's was gone.
The top penalty kill unit was Ruutu-Moore-Eaton-Gonchar once again. Several other players got out on other PK units. So far, the most improvement in the PK is how often they capitalize on clearing attempts. Last year, the Pens would always have trouble making the clear. So far this year, that is not the case and it makes a huge difference. Every time they cane get the puck down the ice, it kills off another 10-15 seconds at least and give them a chance the change if needed.
Mark Eaton and Dominic Moore are huge upgrades in this regard. I think Eaton might have missed one clear all game, if that. Ditto for Moore who was also very active with his stick, poking pucks away. On more than one occasion, he either poke checked an attacker or poked a puck he couldn't have otherwise reached directly to a teammate or to open space so a teammate could skate into it. Little plays like the ones these two have a knack for making will eventually make a difference.
Thibault was very good. It would be easy to look at the score sheet, look at 4 goals against and say he was average at best. However, he kept them in that game. Daniel Briere just beat him with a wrister from the circle on the PP; that happens to every goalie. The two shorties were abysmal coverage by the team in front of him. Mair had a clear line to the net on the winner.
The power play had good movement early, but it never materialized into anything. Going 1 for 9 isn't going to get it done. To add insult to injury, they gave up 2 shorties effectively making their power play -1 for 9. It's bad enough when you give up one shortie to a guy skating down the slot like it was warm-ups, but two is unacceptable. Sidney Crosby, Colby Armstrong, Nils Ekman and Ryan Whitney were on the ice for both of them. Kristopher Letang did start the night out on the top unit, but Whitney was eventually put in his place. Letang continued to get time on the second unit.
Letang had a very uneven game. He was very slow to get going. I'm sure part of that was nerves. Part of it was most also likely due to the fact that he got little time early one. His first shift didn't occur until 6 minutes into the game. The more often he got out there, the more comfortable he seemed to be. His passing was very good, but his skating wasn't quite on par with what I've seen in the past. His decision making was up and down. One occasion in particular, he was bringing the puck up and a Sabre closed in on him. Instead of dishing to his partner, he tried to skate away from the guy, but was checked off stride. He eventually regained the puck and moved it away, but it was close. That happened about 7-10 feet in front of Thibault. On the winner, he seemed to misjudge Mair's speed and once Mair had the corner on him, there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it. Mair is listed at 6'1", 208 which gives him 2 inches and 18 pounds on Letang.
Whitney was improved from last Friday. However, his play was uneven as well. I think he took a puck up high early in the first period which dropped him. He hopped right back up and went to the bench, but did miss most of the opening period. The offense in his game was more evident tonight. The pass to Armstrong was excellent. His defense wasn't as bad as last week, but Maxim Afinogenov made him look really bad on the second shorthander, pretty much turning him into a pylon. Orpik had another Sabre behind him on the play so he tried to cheat that way to take away the pass and left Afinogenov to Whitney. Once Whitney was beaten, Orpik dropped to the ice to try take space away from Afinogenov while keeping the passing lane sealed off, but he saw Orpik coming and his hands are too good.
It was nice to see John LeClair take one to the net and score. Maybe he still has some hockey left in him after all.
Crosby's line was the most consistent threat at even-strength. They generated tons of pressure, several chances, but few shots on net. Armstrong had 4, but Crosby and Ekman finished with only 1 each. Crosby also showed another facet to his game, catching a Sabre on a semi-breakaway from behind and stripping the puck away without taking a penalty. The added speed was very evident on that play.
Jarkko Ruutu finally showed a little of what we can expect from him tonight. He hit a little more, was yapping a little more, and took Briere off the ice with him. Any time he can take a top line player off the ice with him, it's a good thing. Again, he was good on the PK, and blocked a shot or two.
Libor Pivko didn't look out of place on the third line. He was skating pretty good, working hard along the boards. Maybe playing with players like Moore and Ruutu help bring that out of him.
It was a good night in the circle for the Pens. Except for Recchi (1/3-33%), all of the Pens that took draws were 57% or better. Crosby went 11/18 (61%), Malone was 8/13 (62%), Moore was 8/14 (57%0 and Staal was 6/9 (66%).
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