Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
Camp 2011, Preseason Game 1 vs. Detroit
September 21, 2011
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In some ways, tonight's 3-2 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings was a look to the future. In others, it was a blast from the past. In Evgeni Malkin, you got both.
Where else would a game story begin, but with Malkin? Geno looked every bit the Conn Smythe and Cup winner we saw back in 2009. He was strong on the puck, almost toying with the opposition at times. His passing game was as good as it's ever been. When he didn't have the puck, the Wings had to be on full alert as he was often right on the guy with it. Malkin was often described as galloping out there when at his best, and that thoroughbred was loose tonight. If this game was any indication of what kind of season 71 is in for, it could be his best. That can only lead to good things for the Penguins.
I went into this game planning to focus on Joe Morrow each time he was out there. Turns out, that wasn't all that necessary; the Pens most recent first rounder grabbed your attention with his play. His world class skating ability is the basis of his game. His head is up all the time and he had good awareness on the ice. With the exception of a couple passes, he made very good decisions with the puck. The long outlet pass to Arron Asham was a thing of beauty. He put it right between two Wings and it came moments after he broke up a 2 on 1. He does have a good shot, but delivery is very deliberate and that caused him to have three blocked. He'll need to work on getting it away quicker. His work in his own end was solid. Kris Letang, Morrow's defense partner for the evening, was very aggressive in the Pens' own end, and Morrow did a good job of recognizing that and switching sides as needed. His strength was also on display late, knocking Tomas Holmstrom to the ice. If the Pens were not already so deep on the blueline, Morrow might be able to earn himself a 10 game tryout at the start of the season, but he's almost guaranteed to be spending the season with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.
Joe Vitale might have given fans a more immediate look at the future. He took another step forward in his quest to make this team. He didn't show up on the score sheet, but he was very noticeable. He played with lots of energy and generated a few good chances, especially with linemate Colin McDonald. Vitale also led the team in shorthanded ice time with 4:25 and was the Pens' best faceoff man, going 10-6 in the circle.
One of the guys Vitale is competing with for a job is Richard Park. The Pens' second round draft pick in 1994 is attempting to get back to the NHL after spending last season in the Swiss elite league. He may be 35 now, but you wouldn't be able to tell by watching him fly around the rink. The wheels are still there. It's kind of hard to judge Park's chances based off of tonight's game, as he was centering the second line with Asham and Pascal Dupuis. If he makes the team, it will be as a bottom six forward. Like Vitale, he did get a lot of work shorthanded (his 3:00 was second among Penguin forwards). Park did not fare as well on draws, going 2-5.
Chris Kunitz and James Neal seemed to follow Malkin's lead and played a spirited game. Both were all over Detroit. Neal struggled to really let that wrister go at times, but his passing was on.
Colin McDonald and Geoff Walker were very noticeable. Both played physically and made things happen out there.
Matt Niskanen was up and down in his end, but played a pretty good offensive game. Head coach Dan Bylsma said earlier that the 5, 6, 7, and 8 defenseman spots are not set in stone. Of the people competing for those spots, Niskanen has the highest pedigree (a former 1st round pick) and the most NHL experience (295 games), so don't be surprised if he wins a job.
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